Hollywood Capers: Stolen Academy Awards

In the film industry, the Academy Award is the symbol of the most outstanding and top-notch artists in the film industry, from cinematographers to sound to acting. So it’s no surprise these gold Cedric Gibbons-designed statues are auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But some prefer to take a different route of obtaining an Academy Award for their memorabilia collection: theft.

A few classic stars were relieved of their Oscars–Some a prank, some were returned and others still are surrounded with mystery.

Alice Brady: Best Actress in a Supporting Role for “In Old Chicago” (1937)
Character actress Alice Brady won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1937 film “In Old Chicago.” The ceremonies were held on March 10, 1938, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Brady had recently broken her ankle on the set of “Goodbye Broadway” (1938) and was not able to attend the ceremony, according to Actress of a Certain Character by Axel Nissen. Her Oscar was accepted by a man who said he was acting on her behalf, who disappeared with the Academy Award plaque and the award was never found.

Alice Brady receives her Best Actress in a Supporting Role replacement award from Charles Winniger.

Alice Brady receives her Best Actress in a Supporting Role replacement award from Charles Winniger.

The Academy issued a replacement award for Brady later that month, which was presented to her by actor Charles Winninger in an informal ceremony, according to the United Press news brief, “Alice Brady Given Academy Award,” published on March 23, 1938.

Brady’s replacement was later sold in 1993 in an auction, according to according to an Oct. 2, 1992, article by Bruce Chadwick in the New York Daily News “More Academy Awards are finding their way to the auction block.”

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Mr. New Year’s Eve: Guy Lombardo

Publicity photo of Guy Lombardo in the 1940s.

Publicity photo of Guy Lombardo in the 1940s.

“Auld Lang Syne” was his theme song.

They called him Mr. New Year’s Eve, and he was part of America’s New Year’s tradition for nearly 50 years.

Before Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest counted down to 12 a.m., January 1, there was Guy Lombardo. Each year, his saxophones would poignantly play “Auld Land Syne” as couples danced, kissed and wished “Happy New Year.”

From the crash of the stock market in 1929 through the bicentennial in 1976, big bandleader Lombardo and his Royal Canadians were a long standing tradition for Americans.

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“My hope that women will not be afraid”: Classic Actresses who had Breast Cancer


To go along with some monthly health observances, Comet Over Hollywood is recognizing actors who battled diseases and often, kept it a secret from their public and exhibited strength by continuing to practice their craft. Others helped create awareness or spearheaded organizations for research, such as Yul Brynner. For October 2015’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Comet is recognizing actresses who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

PicMonkey Collage

Today, breast cancer survivors are proud and openly share their stories. Some wear pink t-shirts saying they are a survivor, write memoirs or are interviewed by the news to help spread awareness to other women to pay attention to their bodies.

But for actresses of the Golden Era, this wasn’t the case. Many of their obituaries simply note they had endured a “long illness.” Newspapers said Judy Holliday was in the hospital for a bronchial illness and one obituary for Rosalind Russell said she died from stomach cancer. This was largely because of the stigma that surrounded this particular form of cancer.

In the 1950s, the New York Times refused an advertisement for a breast cancer support group, saying they wouldn’t publish the word “breast” or “cancer.” Because of this, during my research I had some troubles finding reliable sources to confirm that some of these women had cancer at all.

It took the help of some of these actresses who were diagnosed with breast cancer to help get rid of the stigma by publicly speaking about their illnesses.

One of the first celebrities to open up about having breast cancer was former child star Shirley Temple. She wanted to empower women to be involved in their medical decisions and held a press conference from her hospital bed in 1972 while recovering from a lumpectomy.

“It is my fervent hope that women will not be afraid to go to their doctors for diagnosis when they have unusual symptoms,” Shirley Temple Black said during a press conference in November 1972. “There is almost certain recovery from this form of cancer if it is caught early enough.”

Actresses who had breast cancer:

Annex - Bardot, Brigitte_43

Brigitte Bardot- The French “sex kitten actress” who made waves with “…And God Created Woman” (1956) was diagnosed in her early 50s. A  Jan. 1985 Los Angeles Times article says that Bardot underwent surgery for breast cancer in France. The article says Bardot was going to receive radiation treatment after the surgery. Bardot is now a 30 year cancer survivor.


Ingrid Bergman– The Swedish-born Academy Award winning actress spent the last several years of her life with breast cancer. The illness is what caused her death at age 67 in 1982. The “Casablanca” actress was diagnosed in 1973, according to Biography.

”Cancer victims who don’t accept their fate, who don’t learn to live with it, will only destroy what little time they have left,” Bergman is quoted in her obituary.

Bergman’s New York Times obituary only says that she had cancer.

“Mama suffered from breast cancer for nine years and the last three years, when my brother and sisters took turns to be with her in London, were very difficult,” said her daughter Isabella Rossellini in an Aug. 2015 interview which celebrated Bergman’s 100th birthday. “The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, she had an enormous [tumour on her] right arm and was very depressed with the fear of being unable to act.”

Diahann Carroll Sitting with Hands Clasped

Diahann Carroll- The “Julia” actress was diagnosed in 1997 with breast cancer after having her yearly mammogram. Carroll was reluctant to talk about her diagnosis.

“First, it doesn’t even phase you. You just [say], ‘Thank you for the information, doctor, and we’ll speak about this tomorrow.’ Because that’s the way I handle things,” Carroll says in an interview on Oprah’s Masterclass.

Carroll is now a breast cancer awareness activist but was reluctant to talk about it at first.

“The vanity was, I didn’t want anyone to know. I don’t want that to be the thought of anyone, the first thing they think when they hear my name: ‘She has cancer, you know.'” she said. “I later thought, ‘That’s pretty arrogant. There are millions of women who have to deal with this every day. We have to work together here, and it’s my responsibility to help them with that.'”


Yvonne Craig- Best known for her role as “Batgirl” on the 1960s TV series “Batman,” Craig passed away in August 2015 at the age of 78 from breast cancer. Craig fought breast cancer for two years.

“Chemotherapy weakened her but didn’t dampen her sense of humor or her spirit, she intended to fight and win this battle. In the end, her mind still wanted to fight but her body had given up,” according to a statement by Craig’s family to ABC News.

Ms. Craig’s family said in a statement that she had breast cancer, which eventually metastasized to her liver, for more than two years, but that she had kept her condition private, according to her New York Times obituary.

“She wanted to spend all of her energy concentrating on winning her battle,” her family said in the New York Times. “She was adamant about this and wanted to tell her story when she was cured and feeling better.”


Bette Davis- Bette Davis said she wanted her epitaph to be, “Here lies Ruth Elizabeth Davis-she did it the hard way.”

Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1980s and underwent a mastectomy in 1981, according to her New York Times obituary.

Davis did it the hard way and continued acting up until a few years before her death. When she starred in “The Whales of August” (1987) with Lillian Gish and Ann Sothern, she had breast cancer and recently had recovered from a massive stroke.

Davis passed away in 1989 at the age of 81 after attending San Sebastian, Spain to receive an award at a film festival. She was flown to Paris after the festival where she died.

ca. 1957 --- Actress Ruby Dee --- Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

Ruby Dee- The actress best known for her role in “A Raisin in the Sun” and wife of actor Ossie Davis, was diagnosed with maligned breast cancer in 1970 and underwent a lumpectomy, according to her obituary in Bloomberg.

“Pins. Needles, people talking, asking questions,” she wrote in her autobiography. “Count backward? I know that routine. I will not go under, get knocked out, surrender to oblivion.”

Dee was a 40 year cancer survivor, passing away in June 2014 at age 91 of natural causes.



Kay Francis- Kay Francis was Warner Brothers’ top star in the 1930s but when Bette Davis hit the scene, Warner began treating Francis poorly and giving her lousy work to push her out. However, she continued working until her career ended after World War II, according to TCM primetime host Robert Osborne. r.

In 1966, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. However, it was too late and the cancer had spread, according to The Power of Glamour: The Women who Defined the Magic of Stardom

While she was ill, Francis was offered Lana Turner’s role in “Madame X,” which she had to turn down due to her health, according to Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career By Lynn Kear and John Rossman.

After her mastectomy, Francis was refined to her bed where she read, watched television, drank and took her medication according to “The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies” by Daniel Bubbeo and the Kear book. Francis died 1968 at age 63.

Head Shot of Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo- After leaving the screen more than 40 years before, Greta Garbo was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984, underwent a partial mastectomy in New York and was given the all-clear three months later. Garbo passed away in 1990 at age 84 from renal failure and pneumonia, according to the 2012 book Greta Garbo: A Divine Star By David Bret.


Paulette Goddard- There is conflicting information about Paulette Goddard and her breast cancer diagnosis. In an article on TCM’s webpage for Summer Under the Stars by Lorraine LoBianco, the author wrote that Goddard died from breast cancer in 1990. However, various other sources, including her New York Times obituary, say Goddard died in 1990 of heart failure at age 78.

Other sources, including a  French Paulette Goddard webpage, and a 1995 book on Goddard and her husband Erich Remarque say Goddard was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s and had a mastectomy in 1975. The effects of the mastectomy were emotionally damaging and made her reclusive in her later years, according to the French webpage.

Actress Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame- Actress Gloria Grahame, known for her roles in film noirs and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974. She tried treating the illness with strict dieting and homeopathic remedies. One doctor told her to stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol and incorporate a vegetarian diet, according to Gloria Grahame, Bad Girl of Film Noir: The Complete Career by Robert J. Lentz. From these changes, Grahame believed that cancer apparently went into remission.

But in 1980, Grahame learned she had breast cancer for a second time and refused treatment. She preferred to work, ignore the illness and never said anything publically about having cancer. Grahame worked until her death. She was preparing for a role in “The Glass Menagerie” in London when she collapsed due to an infection in her abdominal wall, according to Lentz. She passed away in 1981 at age 57.


Julie HarrisActress Julie Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1981 and had a mastectomy right before starting her role on “Knotts Landing,” according to her New York Times obituary. Harris was undergoing chemotherapy while on the show, according to the Washington Post. Harris passed away in August 2013 at age 87.

Actress Judy Holliday

Judy Holliday- Academy Award winning actress and comedian Judy Holliday died from breast cancer in 1965 at age 43. It was difficult to find details about her death due to the time frame when she died, but the book “Promise Me” by Nancy Brinker says Holliday had her left breast removed in the early 1960s and the newspapers said she was in the hospital for a bronchial infection

However, her 1965 obituary notes that she had cancer and she had surgery because of cancer in 1961.

Brinker also writes that after Holliday’s cancer metastasized, her doctors and family thought it would best she didn’t know, telling her that her right breast was in pain because of an inflammation of the sternum. However, this information is not sited.


Jennifer Jones- While some sources list Jennifer Jones as a breast cancer survivor, there is very little information on the Academy Award winning actress’s fight. The only article that mentions that Jones was a breast cancer survivor is her 2009 USA Today obituary. The Pasadena Times notes in her obituary that Jones donated to cancer research. Jones died in December 2009 at age 90.

1950s --- Actress Joi Lansing --- Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

1950s — Actress Joi Lansing — Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

Joi Lansing– Buxom blond B-movie actress Joi Lansing died due to breast cancer in 1972 at age 43. Many obituaries said Lansing died from leukemia.

The book “Joi Lansing:A Body to Die For” by Alexis Hunter says Lansing had both breast and ovarian cancer, which potentially was fueled by Premarian Lansing was taking to reduce aging.

Lansing’s friend Frank Sinatra paid for hospital bills, according to the book Comfort and Joi By Joseph Dougherty.

Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy-  Once called the Queen of Hollywood and The Perfect Wife, Loy was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s. She had a double mastectomy, one breast in 1975 and the other in 1979, according to LifeTime TV. Loy passed away in 1993 at age 88.


Hattie McDaniel– Actress Hattie McDaniel, best known for her role in “Gone with the Wind” and the first African American to win an Academy Award, died from breast cancer in 1952. McDaniel had just started filming the television series “The Beulah Show” but passed away at age 57 after just three episodes.

When she died, McDaniel stated that she wanted her ex-husband Larry Daniels to only receive $1 and the rest of her money go to her brother Sam McDaniel, according to The Margaret Mitchell Encyclopedia by Anita Price Davis. She wanted to be buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, but was denied burial by owner Jules Roth because she was black. She was buried in Rosedale. In 1999, the new owner offered to move her body to Hollywood Forever, her family refused and a received a pink and white monument was built there in her honor, according to “Laugh Be a Lady” By Darryl J. Littleton, Tuezdae Littleton. TV role was taken over by Louise Beavers.

1950's --- Russian American actress, screenwriter and producer Alla Nazimova. --- Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Alla Nazimova- Silent actress Alla Nazimova survived breast cancer in the late 1930s. As she was starting to renew her former popularity on the stage, this was cut short by her illness. Nazimova reportedly had surgery for breast cancer in 1938, according to The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy By Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra, Robert A. Schanke.

She said about her mastectomy, “It hit me like a stroke of lightening, it cut short not only my health but also my career,” according to Passing Performances By Robert A. Schanke, Kim Marra. Nazimova died in July 1945 at age 66.

16 Feb 1967 --- Portrait of Actress Lynn Redgrave --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

16 Feb 1967 — Portrait of Actress Lynn Redgrave — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Lynn Redgrave- Sister of actress Vanessa Redgrave and known for her role in the film “Georgy Girl,” Lynn Redgrave died due to breast cancer in 2010 at age 67, according to her New York Times obituary. Redgrave was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer 2001 and had a mastectomy and chemotherapy in 2003, according to a 2009 New York Times article on the actress.

“It’s been around forever. Not forever, but a long time. And I just go on working. I have lived with cancer now for four years,” she said in 2009.

ca. 1940s --- Publicity portrait of actress Rosalind Russell. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Rosalind Russell- Actress Rosalind Russell died due to breast cancer, coupled with rheumatoid arthritis in 1976 at age 69, according to her obituary. Russell was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1960s, 15 years prior to her death and lived with arthritis for six years.

“If I beat this rap, I’ll search for a cure for the rest of my life,” Russell said.

She had a mastectomy in 1961, but the cancer later returned. She started chemotherapy in 1975, which worked for eight months but wasn’t successful in the last two months of her life, according to her obituary. One obituary said she had stomach chancer.

When Russell received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1973 at the Academy Awards, she thanks her friends for taking care of her, while she was “not quite well.”

1955 --- Actress Susan Strasberg --- Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

Susan Strasberg- Actress and daughter of acting coach Lee Strasberg, Susan Strasberg died in 1999 at age 60 due to breast cancer.

Strasberg treated her disease holistically with Levashov’s physical healing method rather than going through traditional medicine or having a mastectomy,  according to When Good Thinking Goes Bad: How Your Brain Can Have a Mind of Its Own By Todd C. Riniolo.

“She was diagnosed with [breast] cancer a few years ago but it was in remission totally,” said her stepmother, Anna Strasberg in her Los Angeles Times obituary. “We really have no answers here. I think Susan truly believed she was OK. She didn’t make any plans for dying. She just made plans for living.”

1933 --- Actress Gloria Stuart --- Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

Gloria Stuart- Gloria Stuart was diagnosed with breast cancer in the late-1980s and was a breast cancer survivor.

“She did not believe in illness. She paid no attention to it, and it served her well,” said her daughter Sylvia Thompson. “She was a breast cancer survivor but she just paid no attention to illness. She was a very strong woman and had other fish to fry.”

Stuart passed away at age 100 in 2010 due to lung cancer.


Shirley Temple– Shirley Temple Black found a lump on her left breast in 1972 at age 44, according to a New York Times magazine article from 2014.

Temple was one of the first well-known women to speak out about her breast cancer. According to the article, during this time many women automatically were only given the option of a mastectomy, even when a biopsy was an option. She wasn’t going to let this happen to her. She insisted only the breast tissue removed.

The American Cancer Society spoke out again what Temple did, but she paved the way for women taking control of their medical care.

Temple held a news conference from her hospital bed after the procedure to help other women, receiving 5,000 thank you cards from women afterwards.

Actress Vivian Vance

Vivian Vance- “I Love Lucy” star died at age 66 in 1977. While most of her obituaries do not detail that she had breast cancer, sources such as I Had a Ball: My Friendship with Lucille Ball by Michael Z. Stern say she did. Her agent said she had been ill for “quite some time.”

“I have lost one of the best friends I have ever had and the world has lost one of the great performers of television, stage and film,” Lucille Ball said when Vance died.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

“A Colorful Life”: Remembering Joan Leslie


Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

With her shining smile, bright eyes and fresh face, actress Joan Leslie had an innocent girl-next-door appeal. But during her career at Warner Brothers during the 1940s, Joan Leslie held her own in top films with major actors such as Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

She was a full-fledged star by age 17. And it all began on the stage when she was nine years old.

Joan Leslie—then Joan Brodel—was part of a sister act, with her sisters Mary and Betty, known as the Three Brodels. The sisters traveled the United States and Canada; singing, dancing, doing impressions and playing instruments, according to a 1999 interview in the book “Movies Were Always Magical” by Leo Verswijver.

Joan played the accordion and did an impression of actress Greta Garbo.

While performing in New York, an MGM scout saw Joan and signed her to play a small role in the Greta Garbo film “Camille” (1936). In film, Joan, 11, played Robert Taylor’s little sister. She had one line, welcoming him home as he arrived at her first communion.

As she continued to get small, uncredited roles in films such as “Nancy Drew—Reporter” (1938), “Susan And God” (1940) and “Foreign Correspondent” (1940), Joan changed her last name from Brodel to Leslie so she wouldn’t be confused with actress Joan Blondell.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

But her big break came at age 15. Joan got the role of Velma, a young girl with a club foot, in the Howard Hawks directed film “High Sierra” (1940) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. In the film, Bogart is a criminal on the run, and when he meets Velma, he wants to help her get an operation for her foot.

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in “High Sierra”

“That was such a good role,” Leslie said in the Verswijver interview. “And I was only 15! I wish I had more such roles when I was older.”

By age 17, Joan Leslie was on the cover of the Oct. 26, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine. “Joan Leslie: girlish and unassuming, at age 17 she shines brightly as a full-fledged movie star able to sing, dance and act,” the magazine headline said.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

By this time, Leslie had starred with Bogart a second time in “Thieves Fall Out” (1941). Still in her teens, she played the love interest to top stars such as Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York” (1941) and James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942).

“When you talk about working with the best, I’ll always remember Jimmy Cagney. What a creative, dynamic person he was,” she said in the 1999 interview.

Both Cooper and Cagney received Academy Awards for Best Actor for their respective roles.

“I never was nominated but I don’t feel I did anything up to that caliber,” she said.

In most of her roles that followed at Warner Brothers, Joan Leslie exuded a persona that was the young, innocent, sweet girl-next-door.

“I was merely being myself in the 1940s, that’s what it really was,” she said.

However, Joan Leslie always proved to be versatile. She could go from comedies with Eddie Albert, such as “The Great Mr. Nobody” (1940) to the hard hitting drama “The Hard Way” (1942), playing the younger sister Ida Lupino is pushing to make a star. At age 18, Joan was also the youngest of any of Fred Astaire’s dance partners in the 1943 film, “The Sky’s The Limit.”

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in “Sky’s the Limit.”

However, because she was so much younger than her peers such as Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda and Bogart, she said she never felt like she was a “chum” to any of these stars, but was also never scared or in awe while working with them.

“People were very nice to me…” she said. “They were getting the quality from me that they wanted: young, innocent and sweet girl next door. It was during the war (World War II) and that’s what they wanted to project on the screen.”

Like many other actresses, Joan Leslie danced at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II with the soldiers. Art imitated life as she starred in the film “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) as herself. In the film a soldier, played by Robert Hutton, wins a date with Joan Leslie and the two end up falling in love.

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film “The Hollywood Canteen” (1944)

In 1946, Joan Leslie was voted No. 1 in a Future Star poll, but becoming quality roles were scarce for her. This largely was because she sued Warner Brothers for control of her contract, believing after the age 21 she should be able to pick better parts. Warner lowered her billing in some of her films and blackballed her name with other studios.

“I always liked to play a certain kind of part as a certain kind of person and I don’t find that very much anymore. The business has changed so much,” she said in 1999.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

However, once Joan Leslie married obstetrician William Caldwell, MD, in 1950, her interest in Hollywood started to fade. When the two had twin girls, Patricia and Ellen, Joan stopped making films and concentrated on her role as a mother.

“When I married, that would be the most important thing in my life,” she said. “When you had a colorful life as an actress, it’s not easy to say that and to mean it as well. My husband respects me for what I have accomplished in my career.”

After her career, she was involved with parish work, the Los Angeles Public Library’s after-school reading program, and the advisory board of the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund, according to her obituary.

Dr. Caldwell passed away in 2000 and Miss Leslie passed away at age 90 on Oct. 12, 2015.

“I had a very colorful life, she said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

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“It was my father’s success”: An interview with the real “Gidget”

 Comet Over Hollywood has reviewed the three “Gidget” feature films this summer. To wrap up the series, Comet interviewed Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the real Gidget whose summer story inspired her screenwriter father to write a book. The conversation was delightful. Ms. Zuckerman was down-to-Earth and it felt like talking and laughing with an old friend. 

(r) Kathy Kohner in 1957 in the photo that was used on the book cover. (L) Kohner Zuckerman pictured in 2014 at Duke's, where she works.

(r) Kathy Kohner in 1957 in the photo that was used on the book cover. (L) Kohner Zuckerman pictured in 2014 at Duke’s, where she works.

It was a different world for Kathy Kohner as she walked on the film set of “Gidget” in 1959.

“It was hard to understand that they were making a movie about me,” said Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the real “Gidget,” in a phone interview with Comet Over Hollywood on Tuesday, Aug. 25. “They weren’t even filming at Malibu.”

The 1959 “Gidget” film that starred Sandra Dee, James Darren and Cliff Robertson spawned two more feature films, two television shows and several made-for-TV movies. And it all began with a 15-year-old girl telling her father that she wanted to write a story about her summer.

Kathy had been spending her summer days in 1957 at Malibu around a group of kids that were different than your average teenager. The boys surfed all day, lived in a shack on the beach, and nicknamed petite Kathy, “Gidget”- meaning “girl midget.”

Screenwriter Frederick Kohner with his daughter Kathy, who served as inspiration for Gidget.

Screenwriter Frederick Kohner with his daughter Kathy, who served as inspiration for Gidget.

“I can close my eyes and remember turning in the passenger seat of the car and telling my dad that I wanted to write a story about my days at the beach. I told him, ‘There is a guy who lives in a shack,’” Zuckerman said. “Dad said, ‘Well you aren’t a writer, but I know you keep diaries, and I’ll write the story. Sounds like fun.’ I told my dad pretty much everything; I had a very good relationship with him. I still have those diary pages.”

Kathy’s father was Hollywood screenwriter Frederick Kohner, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his screen play “Mad About Music” (1938) starring Deanna Durbin, Herbert Marshall and Gail Patrick. Kohner’s Hollywood credits also include Durbin films “It’s a Date” (1940), “Nice Girl?” (1941), “The Men in Her Life” (1941) starring Loretta Young, the Claudette Colbert and Robert Young film “Bride for Sale” (1949) and “Never Wave at a WAC” (1953) starring Rosalind Russell.

Kohner was born in Austria-Hungary, where he was already a writer with film screen credits before coming to the United States. He left Europe when Nazis started removing Jewish screen credits from films. His brother, Hollywood agent Paul Kohner, helped Kohner come to the United States, along with their other brother Walter. Paul Kohner is the grandfather of directors Chris and Paul Weitz and father to actress Susan Kohner, star of “Imitation of Life” (1959).

“My dad was pretty much always at home, but he had an area in back of the house that he called the studio. It was an enclave set apart where he wrote,” she said. “He wrote the screenplay for the film “Never Wave at a WAC,” and I got to meet Rosalind Russell. I was probably 17, and she had a big fancy house with her husband. It was fun and I was amazed by her home.”

Kathy’s summer adventures were weaved into the fictional story titled “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas” about a young girl who felt like she fit in best with the surfers and had a romance with a surfer named, Moondoggie. In the book, the character’s real name is Franzie, which was the name of his wife.

The 1957 cover for "Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas," featuring Kathy. The book is still available on Amazon.

The 1957 cover for “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas,” featuring Kathy. The book is still available on Amazon.

The book is based on some truths, but a good bit was fictional. For example, Kathy had a crush on a surfer but they never dated, as suggested in the film series.

“There was someone who lived in a shack, I did have a big crush on one of the surfers, I did buy a board with a totem pole on it, I did learn how to surf, I did get tonsillitis a lot, I did bring food to the beach for the guys, I did try very hard to be liked,” she said. “But as for the big crush, I don’t know whether it was reciprocated or not. I think sometimes he did like me and other times he thought I was a kid sister. There was no big romance, but I was definitely charged on Bill. That was his name.”

When the book hit the shelves, it was an immediate best-seller, but Kathy does not claim that success.

“It was my dad’s success. There was a definite ‘Wow’ moment because of the response,” Kathy said. “I think I also thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder what the guys are going to think about the book.’ There was some exposé in it, but in retrospect, I’m sure they loved it, and it created the billion dollar surf industry.”

Kathy was in college in Oregon when the film starring Sandra Dee was released, but she had the opportunity to meet the stars. She remembers Dee as being sweet and considers her the best of the Gidget actresses. In comparison, Dee’s Gidget was sweet, demure and kind while Kathy said she was more of a tomboy.

“It’s odd being that person and watching the films about what Gidget does,” she said. “Sandra Dee is Gidget. There’s me, the real person, but she was great as the character. In the Sally Field TV show- that wasn’t my life. She got involved in high school and the band and journalism. As cute as it was, that wasn’t me. I wanted to be one of the gang or one of the guys. I didn’t like high school. I wanted to be in Malibu.”

With the “Gidget” film came beach music, a mass interest in surfing and more beach films, such as the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies.

“Everyone wanted to surf and go to Malibu and fall in love,” she said. “My dad was talented and wrote a really cool book. A studio saw that it would be a good movie and it was. They cast Sandra Dee and Jimmy Daren, who were great, and it cascaded. It was being at the right place at the right time. I was a kid and I was going away to college. I didn’t think of the business end of surfing with the contest and the clothes. There was no surf music yet, we had ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and Elvis Presley. Surf music didn’t come until 1961.”

16-year-old Kathy in the Oct. 28, 1957, issue of LIFE magazine. (LIFE)

16-year-old Kathy in the Oct. 28, 1957, issue of LIFE magazine. (LIFE)

Now, at age 74, Kathy works at a restaurant in Malibu called Duke’s, named for surfer Duke Kahanamoku, where everyone still calls her Gidget, and she is able to promote her book. Kathy still keeps in contact with some of her surfer friends, who she calls “life-long friends.”

“I do keep in contact with some of the boys who surfed in Malibu. They are scattered all over and some aren’t alive anymore,” she said. “I definitely made life-long friends with them. Recently, one of the Malibu surfers came to see me, and I have known him since he’s 19. I told my husband that aside from my family, I have known him the longest.”

She hasn’t surfed in a few summers, but the spirit still lives on in her daily life.

“I like the fact that this character had tenacity. Whether Gidget surfed because of boys, her parents wouldn’t let her go to the movies, or she had nothing better to do, the story was kind of ballsy,” she said. “I wanted to surf, and I wanted to learn even if it meant dealing with teasing or not always being greeted with open arms. A large element of the Gidget story is having the attitude to pursue what you want.”

You can buy the book “Gidget” by Frederick Kohner on Amazon

Another photo of Kathy from the Oct. 28, 1957, LIFE magazine.

Another photo of Kathy from the Oct. 28, 1957, LIFE magazine.

Read more about the three Gidget feature films: 

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Life of groundbreaking Hollywood composer explored in new film

Ever wanted to get involved with a documentary or see your name in the credits of a film? Learn more about how you can get “Lives of Bernard Herrmann” closer to completion through their crowdfunding campaign.

What would the shower scene of “Psycho” be like without his piercing, staccato strings? Would the theme from “Vertigo” be as dizzying without those swirling woodwinds?

Rehearsal of The Free Company radio drama with conductor Bernard Herrmann. Image dated April 6, 1941. Copyright © 1941 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File X4467_2

Rehearsal of The Free Company radio drama with conductor Bernard Herrmann. Image dated April 6, 1941. Copyright © 1941 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File X4467_2

Forty years after his death, composer Bernard Herrmann’s still hasn’t stopped playing. His themes constantly appear in pop culture; whether it’s looped into mainstream music, used in a commercial or reworked into another composer’s score. Examples of these include Quentin Tarantino’s use of the whistling “Twisted Nerve” theme in “Kill Bill,” or the Lady Gaga using a portion of “Vertigo” in her “Born this Way” music video.

But Herrmann’s influence doesn’t stop at pop culture. You can hear traces of his impact in the scores of 20th and 21st century composers such as John Williams, Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino

To highlight his work and continuing relevance, New York-based director Brandon Brown is directing a new full-length documentary, “Lives of Bernard Herrmann,” on the composer who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Ray Harryhausen and Martin Scorsese. In February, Brown interviewed actor and former co-host of TCM’s “The Essentials” Alec Baldwin, who called Herrmann an equal to all of those artists.

Comet Over Hollywood spoke with Brown about what inspired the project and when his love for the composer began:

“Lives of Bernard Herrmann” director, Brandon Brown

COH: What made you decide to make the documentary? What is your goal?

BB: The documentary is my dream project; I want to make a film that I would like to watch on Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was not only an amazing composer but he was also an interesting person. I think his music and story deserve to be more closely examined in a longer film with new interviews. My goal is to introduce people to Herrmann’s music and also sympathize with him not only as a composer, but as a character in the documentary.

COH: What inspired the title?

BB:  In an interview from 1970*, Herrmann said, “There’s no one performance of a piece [of music] that can ever reveal the whole piece… It’s not finished. It goes on and on and on. Each performance reveals something new about it again.”

When I decided on a title for this film, I had that quote in mind and applied it to Herrmann’s life. To me, a documentary on Bernard Herrmann’s life would in fact need to be a documentary on many lives. It’d be a documentary examining Herrmann’s life before music, his life of composing music, his life as a husband and father, and, finally, how his music has lived on long after his passing.

This interview is available through the Film Music Society.

COH: When did your love for Bernard Herrmann begin? What started it?

BB: It started when I was 12 or 13 after I heard the score from “Vertigo.” Up until that point, I had a general love of soundtracks that started with my love of movies and it evolved from there. John Williams was my favorite composer before Bernard Herrmann. As I got more interested in Herrmann, I learned that Williams was influenced by Herrmann and that he knew him personally. It was interesting to connect my two favorite composers.

COH: Do you remember the first time you were introduced to Bernard Herrmann? What was the score and when was it?

BB: The first score I ever heard was “The Trouble with Harry,” which was also my first Alfred Hitchcock film. I was six or seven years old.  The score that later made me aware of Herrmann was “Vertigo.” I saw how Hitchcock’s direction, the visuals of Robert Burks, the acting of Stewart and Novak and Herrmann’s music all paralleled each other.

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.

BB: What is your favorite Herrmann score? What makes it memorable?

COH: “Obsession” (1976). It’s a genuinely haunting score through his use of organ and strings and how his themes reflect the characters. “Obsession” is really the same story as “Vertigo,” which has more of a romantic score. The score for “Obsession is much more haunting and eerie than “Vertigo,” and Herrmann’s finale makes the film.

COH: Though you are still in the early stages, when do you hope for the documentary to be complete?

BB: Summer 2016.

COH: What do your viewers have to look forward to? (Interviews, new information)

BB: The documentary will include interviews with Herrmann’s family, people he worked with and people who know his music well. Most of these are interviews that haven’t been conducted before on film. We’ll be revealing more information as the interviews are filmed.

COH: Why is it important that we remember Bernard Herrmann and his work today?

BB: First and foremost, Herrmann wrote some of the greatest music of the 20th century, ranking with any celebrated classical composers. Writing music wasn’t just a job for Herrmann, it was his life. He saw it as an art form and was dedicated to preserving that art form.  He demonstrated this by conducting the music of Ives, Ruggles and other great but generally unknown composers.

Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann

Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann

COH: How has Herrmann influenced pop culture, contemporary composers and scores?

BB: You hear his music everywhere, whether it is being reused or parodied, people are constantly finding new uses for his music. Try to think of any slasher movie that doesn’t pull inspiration from the shower scene in “Psycho,” or an outer space film that doesn’t use musical techniques from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Herrmann’s music was a foundation for horror, thriller and sci-fi film music. You always hear it. Every time you hear the theme from “Jaws,” you will hear traces of Herrmann.

COH: What interested you in film making and documentaries?

BB: There are plenty of stories to tell about people who made a significant impact in the world. I want to help tell these stories of people who are no longer around or left their mark on history.

A Familiar Face: Character actor John Ridgely

Character actor John Ridgely

Character actor John Ridgely

They are the highlights of most of our favorite films; coming in with the most striking lines and comedic moments.

A character actor is often the best part of the film. Not the star and a little lower than the secondary lead, a character actor has something distinct that they carry from film to film; whether it’s a funny voice, a physical appearance or personality trait. Think S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall’s chubby cheeks, Joyce Compton’s southern drawl or Una O’Connor’s fussy Irish habits.

But there are character actors who are just below these sidekick-like roles. The audience recognizes their face but may not know their name. These actors usually perform a role in the film that helps move the plot along, even if it is something as simple as being a police officer arresting the bad guy or a hotel clerk checking the lead actors into a hotel.

This role describes the versatile “every man” actor, John Ridgely (sometimes spelled Ridgeley). Born John Huntington Rea in Illinois, Ridgely was a graduate of Stanford University with plans to go into an industrial career. After performing in plays with the Pasadena Playhouse, Ridgely entered films in the 1930s.

If you have watched a Warner Brother’s film made between 1935 and 1948, chances are you have spotted Ridgley. The tall, dark haired vaguely attractive actor appeared in 145 feature films. His roles ranged from police officers, doctors, heavies, truck drivers, salesmen, orchestra leaders, part of a double date, cab drivers, hotel clerks, coroners and reporters.

John Ridgely as a hotel clerk in

John Ridgely as a hotel clerk in “Nancy Drew-Reporter.”

Some of his films include The Big Sleep (1946), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), “They Died With Their Boots On (1941), The Letter (1940) and Dark Victory (1939), humorously listed as Man Making Crack About Judith.

Actress Lauren Bacall’s first screen test was with Ridgely for the film “To Have and Have Not” (1944), performing the famous “put your lips together and blow” scene. The scene was written without any real intention of keeping it in the film, but after seeing the screen test, director Howard Hawks changed his mind, according to Bacall’s autobiography “By Myself.”

But Ridgely received top billing in the 1943 World War II film “Air Force;” co-starring with John Garfield, Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young and Harry Carey.

John Ridgley had top billing in

John Ridgley had top billing in “Air Force.”

For his first (and last) time in a lead role, Ridgely does an excellent job. In the Feb. 4, 1943, New York Times film review, critic Bosely Crowther called Ridgely’s performance “refreshingly direct.”

“Mr. Hawks very wisely recruited a cast with no outstanding star, thus assuring himself the privilege of giving everyone a chance. And his actors have responded handsomely,” Crowther wrote.

Two years later, Ridgely acted with John Garfield in “Pride of the Marines” (1945). Though the role is not as large as “Air Force,” Ridgely has a sufficient amount of screen time as a next door neighbor and friend of Garfield and his wife, played by Eleanor Parker.

But regardless how much screen time he received in films, Ridgley garnered media attention, as most film stars in the classic era did. This included:

  • April 10, 1943: A humorous newspaper story in an April 10, 1943, article where Ridgely gave a few kids a ride. The kids asked to be let out of the car when they found out he was an actor.
  • July 20, 1943: “Theater Gossip” John Garfield and John Ridgley announced to be acting with Cary Grant in “Destination Tokyo.” The two Johns are both noted for just coming from the film “Air Force.”
  • Nov. 11, 1943:The Evening Independent, “Playhouse Film Provides Thrills, Flynn Stars in Hudson Bay Story of Nazi Spies”: Ridgley is noted for acting in the upcoming Errol Flynn film, “Northern Pursuit.”
  • Feb. 11, 1944: “Sign on Windshield Almost Ruins Actor,” an article tells how Ridgely almost was in a car accident due to his surprise of seeing an old woman driving a 1903 Baker Electric.
  • Oct. 27, 1944: “The Evening Independent” under “Theater Gossip”: John Ridgley is noted for playing a “heavy” in the upcoming film, “The Big Sleep.” “Assignment of Ridgely was announced at the same time it was disclosed Regis Toomey was signed for an important role as a fast talking muscle man…Ridgely portrayed a meteorologist in Destination Tokyo and a confused husband in The Doughgirls.”
  • April 6, 1945: Ridgely is mentioned in the sub-head of a review on “God is My Co-Pilot” starring Dennis Morgan.
  • May 27, 1951: article mentions Ridgely was celebrating his 19th anniversary in film and his next upcoming project, playing a doctor in the “The Blue Veil.”
Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, John Ridgely and Charles Drake in

Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, John Ridgely and Charles Drake in “Air Force.”

Ridgely left the industry in 1953 and died in Manhattan in 1968 of heart failure. Conflicting reports say he is buried in New York while other says Forest Lawn in Hollywood. Ridgley was married to Virginia Robinson and had a son, John Ridgely Rea.

While he wasn’t a huge star, Ridgely was still considered important enough to be noted by the press. Regardless of the role, Ridgely always adds something to the film and it’s fun to pick him out in his various roles.

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Col. Maggie Raye: A One Woman USO

martha rayeDuring world wars and conflicts, celebrity USO shows travel to military bases and overseas to raise morale for the men and women fighting for freedom.

One film star who is the most associated with entertaining troops is Bob Hope, who entertained during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Hope would bring celebrities with him such as Ann-Margret or Connie Stevens to bring the familiarity of home to them in a foreign land.

But there is one star who isn’t mentioned as much for her morale raising service as Hope: Martha Raye.

Nicknamed Colonel Maggie by soldiers, Raye was so revered by veterans that she received special permission to be buried with the U.S. Army Special Forces cemetery on Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina.

Martha Raye's headstone at Fort Bragg. I visited Raye's grave in December. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Martha Raye’s headstone at Fort Bragg. I visited Raye’s grave in December. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

World War II
Her patriotic endeavors began when she traveled overseas during World War II on Oct. 31, 1942. Raye traveled with actresses Carole Landis, Kay Francis and dancer Mitzi Mayfair to entertain troops in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and North Africa. The adventures of the four actresses was later written as a book by Carole Landis called “Four Jills in a Jeep” and was made into a musical film by 20th Century Fox.

Raye, known for her large mouth and jazzy songs, was the comic relief of the group. Landis was the sex appeal and Francis brought class and glamour.

While in England, the actresses only had one show canceled. When they arrived at a base, they learned half of the squadron’s bombardiers were lost that day. They ate with the men and helped toast to those who had died, according to “Take It from the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye” by Jean Maddern Pitrone.

Martha Raye performing in Africa in 1943.

Martha Raye performing in Africa in 1943.

While traveling to North Africa in a B-17, two German planes began to attack. After the firing stopped, the actresses learned their tail gunner was killed, according to Pitrone.

When Landis, Francis and Mayfair returned to the states, Raye stayed behind to continue entertaining the troops. She helped carry wounded men, worked with medics, and traveled by jeep to the front lines; performing four shows. Each show was at least an hour and a half long, Pitrone wrote.

Conditions were rugged in Africa: Raye came down with yellow fever and lost 22 pounds, and then was in a trench for three days with 200 soldiers while Germans bombed the area, according to Pitrone.

“It was chummy,” Raye said in a May 15, 1943, United Press newspaper article, “Martha Raye Now a Captain.”

Raye returned home with a rank of honorary captain in March 1943 after four and a half months overseas.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Africa.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Africa.

“Their only complaint was that they didn’t get enough letters from home. That’s what they want most,” Raye told the newspapers, encouraging families to write, according to the United Press.

Her plan was to travel to the South Pacific, but doctors told her that she needed rest after her bought with yellow fever. Instead, she planned a six week American military base tour, which ended on the second day when she collapsed from fatigue. In 1944, she discovered she was unable to go on any USO tours, because she was pregnant, Pitrone said.

Korea and Vietnam
Raye traveled to Korea in the summer of 1952 to entertain troops, but it only lasted a few weeks due to illness.

Martha Raye in Vietnam in her signature Green Beret and combat boots.

Martha Raye in Vietnam in her signature Green Beret and combat boots.

She was most active during Vietnam; traveling overseas eight times from 1965 to 1972 for six month to a year per tour. She was in Vietnam so often that a blind soldier recognized her by her perfume.

“She spent more time in Vietnam than the average soldier. She virtually gave up her career, family and everything,” said Mildred Fortin, quoted in a July 6, 1993, Daily Gazette article, “Area veterans take on mission to honor Martha Raye.” Fortin was a Vietnam veteran and co-founder of Medals for Martha Raye, an organization that wanted Raye to receive the Medal of Freedom, the highest military recognition a civilian can receive.

Raye would go into risky areas for the soldiers, leaving the larger, safe bases and travel into the jungle to perform for as few as 25 soldiers, according to her 1994 obituary. In 1967, she was the first woman in the Green Berets with five qualified jumps, according to an Aug. 1, 1979, article by Vernon Scott.

“She came, regardless of danger,” said retired Master Sgt. Tom Squire in her obituary. “She talked, drank, told jokes, played cards. A lot of times when the regular Army didn’t know what was going on or understand, she would just go.”

In each base, she posted her home address and phone number, encouraging the soldiers to stay in touch. And when she would return home, she sent their letters to their family, called wives, and would tell reporters how the soldiers were discouraged and disillusioned by the lack of support they were receiving from Americans, according to Pitrone’s book.

“I think the way they’re being treated by a minority of idiots back home is just disgraceful,” Raye said in an Aug. 27, 1970, article before she went on her sixth tour. “What I do isn’t for sympathy or pity. It’s just trying to help in a small way. Our servicemen give so much and ask for so little.”

Martha Raye with soldiers in Vietnam.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Vietnam.

Along with singing and entertaining, Raye would help as a nurse. Raye told people she was became a registered nurse in 1936 and worked at a hospital while also acting at Paramount. However, it seems she never was a registered nurse but was once a nurses’ aid.

The soldiers thought so highly over her, they once threw her a birthday party. Fortin said Raye was the mother that the boys were missing- sister, girlfriend or nurse.

“We had no idea who would be coming to Ham Long on Christmas morning (1971),” said Army Col. John B. Haseman. “You can imagine our surprise and delight when this wonderful lady, clad in her trademark jungle fatigues and Green Beret jumped out of the helicopter… I will never forget what she did for us, and I know there are thousands of other soldiers who can tell you a similar story.”

During Vietnam, the Army made her an honorary member of the Green Berets’ Special Forces and she was given an honorary rank of Army Lt. Col. The Marines made her a full Colonel. In 1969, she was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work with the military, and in 1993, she was recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Even long after World War II or Vietnam, military personnel would check in with Raye. One World War II veteran who was with her in North Africa wrote into Ann Landers in 1991 asking if she was okay after seeing her in a wheelchair on TV.

“I was privileged to be Martha’s Jeep driver during the North African Campaign when she entertained the troops of the 2nd Armored Division,” he wrote. “She tripped while performing and hurt her ankle but refused to get it checked out by a doctor until she put on a show for 20,000 soldiers.”

At her Fort Bragg funeral in October 1994, the Honor Guard from the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne served as pallbearers, the 82nd Airborne Division band performed and 300 soldiers and civilians were there to honor her.

“She was Florence Nightingale and Dear Abby,” said Bob Hope. “And she was the only singer who could be heard over the artillery fire.”

Closer view of Raye's grave at Fort Bragg (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Closer view of Raye’s grave at Fort Bragg (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

From Citizen Kane to Paul Masson: Orson Welles the constant perfectionist

Orson Welles in 1938 on CBS radio

Orson Welles in 1938 on CBS radio

Orson Welles was a media renaissance man.

As an actor, director, writer and producer, he experimented with several entertainment art forms. His work such as making the United States believe they were under alien attack to making a critical film about one of the most powerful men in America made Welles a controversial figure.

From acting on the radio, stage and films which included Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Third Man and The Lady from Shanghai, Welles gained the reputation for being eccentric and difficult to work with.

In order to continue funding his projects, Welles had to take on lower brow jobs, including the Paul Masson wine commercials he is famously and humorously known for.

While there are hilarious anecdotes and outtakes came from these commercials, it’s not surprising that someone so immersed in all forms of arts and entertainment would be argumentative about comparing cheap wine to the text of “Gone with the Wind.”

Because he was involved in so many high level productions,he had a high standard of other media, down to the script for Paul Masson wine commercials and the text for a frozen peas advertisement.

Welles wasn’t cynical about doing the advertisements; he was reworking the text as he did with advertisements in the 1930s to help improve it, according to “What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?” by Joseph McBride.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Welles promoted Pan American Airlines and Lady Esther cosmetics on the radio.

Welles in a printed Paul Masson advertisement.

Welles in a printed Paul Masson advertisement.

Starting in 1978, Welles was hired as the Paul Masson spokesman. Masson later dropped him from the ads. “My Lunches with Orson” by Peter Biskind’s sites the reason for Welles telling a talk show host that he lost weight because he cut out snacks and wine.

“I’ve worked for advertising agencies all my life,” Welles is quoted in Biskind’s book. “In the old days in radio, you worked for them, because they were the boss, not the network. And I have never seen more seedier, about-to-be-fired sad sacks than were responsible for those Paul Masson ads. The agency hated me, because I kept trying to improve the copy.”

Paul Masson’s slogan at the time was “Paul Masson, we sell no wine before its time.” Each add compared the wine to a higher art form that also took several years to create, such as a Beethoven symphony.

In one such instance, a commercial was comparing Masson to a Stradivarius violin, which took three years to carve.

“Come on gentleman,” Welles is quoted in “Orson Welles: A Biography,” by Barbara Learning. “You have a nice, pleasant cheap little wine here. You haven’t got the presumption to compare it to a Stradivarius violin.”

In a famous incident, Welles was hired by Findus Frozen Food in 1970 and was recording a voiceover for a frozen peas ad. During the recording, Welles argued about the text, lost his temper and finally walked out (Read the transcript below). However, though Welles sounds like a prima dona in the session, the technicians said he was very kind to them during the recording, according to “VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor” by Harlan Hogan.

Welles didn’t just try to change the text, but he also sent instructions on how he would like to be photographed. He arrived for a Masson commercial shoot with his makeup already applied on his own.

He also sent instructions to the cameramen: he liked the brooding look he had when the camera was positioned slightly above his eyes so he had to look up a bit at it, and he liked the hard light three-quarters on the left side, according to Learning’s book.

While this sounds like star behavior, his requests aren’t surprising since he is familiar with filming and lighting. However, the camera men would have Welles’ requests set up for when he arrived. Once he was satisfied, the director would quietly change it to how he wanted it, according to Learning’s book.

Through the years, these advertisements have made Welles the butt of jokes and were the lighter, more humorous side of his career. As the constant professional and perfectionist, Welles viewed the piddly commercials the same as he would one of his own films: he wanted it to be well made. Welles didn’t want to appear out of character with the persona that he had crafted since the 1930s.

Transcript of the frozen peas ads (Source: VO by Harlan Hogan):

Orson Welles: “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there.” Do you really mean that?

Director 1: Uh, yes, so in other words, I—I—I’d start half a second later.

Welles: Don’t you think you really want to say “July” over the snow? Isn’t that the fun of it?

D 1: It’s—if—if you can (laughs) if you can make it almost when that shot disappears, it’ll make more—

Welles: I think it’s so nice that—that you see a snow-covered field and say “every July peas grow there”. “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there.” We aren’t even in the fields, you see? (pause) We’re talking about them growing and she’s picked them. (clears throat) What?

D 1: …in July.

Welles: I don’t understand you, then. When must—what must be over for “July”?

D 1: Uh, when we get out of that snowy field—

Welles: Well, I was out! We were onto a can of peas, a big dish of peas when I said “in July”.

D 1: Oh, I’m sorry, Orson.

Welles: Yes, always. I’m always—past that!

D 1: You are?

Welles: Yes! Wh—that’s about where I say “in July”.

Director 2: Can you emphasize a bit “in”? “In July.”

Welles: Why? That doesn’t make any sense. Sorry. There’s no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with “in” and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say “in July” and I’ll go down on you. That’s just idiotic, if you’ll forgive me by saying so.

D 2: (indistinct chatter)

Welles: That’s just stupid. “In July”? I’d love to know how you emphasize “in” in “in July”. Impossible! Meaningless!

D 1: I think all they were thinking about was that they didn’t want to—

Welles: He isn’t thinking.

D 1: Orson, can we just do one last time—

Welles: Yeah.

D 1: …and it was my fault. I should—I said “in July”. If you could leave “every July”—

Welles: You didn’t say it. He said it.

D 1: …I said “every July”.

Welles: Your friend. “Every July”?

D 1: …so after this shot…

Welles: No, you don’t really mean “every July”?

D 1: …it is, but it’s…

Welles: But that’s—that’s bad copy. It’s in July. Of course it’s every July! There’s too much directing around here.

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Yul Brynner spearheaded cancer awareness, prevention

Yul Brynner (1)Known for his mysterious, intense looks and bald head, actor Yul Brynner is famous for his film roles in “The Magnificent Seven,” “Anastasia,” “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I” as the King of Siam.

But Brynner also played a role in cancer awareness. This week is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (April 12-18, 2015); an event that Brynner’s own illness helped play a role in.

Brynner and oncologist George Sisson, MD, formed the Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation in 1984 in Chicago. Renamed in 2001 as the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and based in Charleston, SC, the organization’s mission continues to be educating people on the side effects of tobacco and its connection to cancers of the head, neck and mouth.

While the King of Siam is one of the roles Brynner is best known for, it was also one of his favorites. Aside from the 1956 film version, Brynner performed the role on stage 4,625 times up until three months before his death in 1985, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

OHANCAW_logoBrynner began reprising the role of the King in 1977. He first appeared on stage in the role in 1951. His daughter Victoria called his returning to Broadway for “The King and I” a “God send,” in the documentary “The Hollywood Collection: Yul Brynner- The Man Who Was King,” because he hadn’t been in a good place in his career.

“He was getting to play again a role that had been his for years,” Victoria said.

In 1983, while Brynner was still playing the King, he learned he had lung cancer. One source, the Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society by Graham Colditz, said Brynner saw a doctor because his throat felt hoarse and that is how he was connected with Sisson. The 2006 biography “Yul Brynner” by Michelangelo Capua said Brynner found a lump on his neck while putting on his makeup. Brynner was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in September 1983 by three oncologists.

Brynner tried to keep his illness quiet from the public; only telling close friends and family members, according to Capua’s book. Brynner started smoking as a kid and smoked five packs of cigarettes a day, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

“I recall very clearly the night that he called me. He said, ‘I don’t have very good news and that he had three months to live,’” Victoria said. “From then on it was a battle to defy this disease. He kept on doing the King and I. It gave him structure: something to do every day, something to fight for. It gave him two and a half years that we really hadn’t hoped for.”

Brynner underwent radiation treatment, because the side effects were less severe than chemotherapy, according to Capua’s biography.

“Having been ill has opened my eyes suddenly to the fact that, the gypsies have a wonderful phrase for it: ‘Your future is getting shorter.’ There are things I want to do beyond sharpening and honing this role further,” Brynner said in a 1984 New York Times interview. “At the same time, the illness has changed the King for me. Some lines come as a surprise suddenly: ‘Every day, my Lord in heaven show the way’ and ‘Every day I try to live for one more day.’ This describes completely how I do the show and how I survived the illness.”

Yul Brynner during the 1985 "King and I" revival.

Yul Brynner during the 1985 “King and I” revival.

While still performing, the play was renamed “The King and I: Farewell Tour,” and Brynner would visit cancer patients in hospitals. He spoke with a 10-year-old boy who was bald due to his radiation therapy, and told the child, “See, I’m a star and I’m bald. It’s not so bad being bald,” according to Capua’s biography.

Brynner’s last performance in the “King and I” was June 30, 1985.

Before his death, Brynner was interviewed on Good Morning America (GMA) where he told the reporter that he wanted to film a commercial before his death warning people about the dangers of smoking. Part of this interview was edited into a PSA for the American Cancer Foundation.

“If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn’t be talking about any cancer,” Brynner said on GMA. “I smoked a lot since I was a kid just to appear macho, because I didn’t have brains enough. Something else makes you macho. I really wanted to make a commercial when I realized I was so sick.”

The commercial aired posthumously.

“Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke, whatever you do, just don’t smoke,” Brynner said.

He died on Oct. 10, 1985, at age 65 at New York Hospital- Cornell Medical Center.

“There was an idea that you go to bed not knowing if you have a tomorrow and you must be thankful for every tomorrow and make the most of it,” Brynner told the New York Times in 1984. “I couldn’t see myself going to bed and waiting to see what would happen with my illness. I preferred to play to 2,000 or 3,000 people and standing ovations. The choice is quite simple.”

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