Musical Monday: The Mikado (1939)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
“The Mikado” –Musical #495

kenny

Studio:
Pinewood Studios

Director:
Victor Schertzinger

Starring:
Kenny Baker, Jean Colin, Sydney Granville, John Barclay

Plot:
Set in Japan, Nanki-Poo (Baker), a prince disguised as a wandering minstrel, falls in love with Yum Yum (Colin).However, she is engaged to the Lord High Execution. Nanki-Poo is set to be executed because he is in love with an engaged girl.

Trivia:
-Written by composers Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, “The Mikado” originally opened in London in March 1885 at the Savoy Theater and ran 672 performances.
-Aside from Kenny Baker, many of the players in the film were from the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, a professional company that opened in the 1870s and closed in 1982. The company staged Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
-Rereleaed in theaters in 1949.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color by William V. Skall. The film lost to “Gone with the Wind.”
-Nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival.

Kenny Baker and Jean Colins in "The Mikado"

Kenny Baker and Jean Colins in “The Mikado”

Notable Songs:
-“Gentleman of Japan”

My Review:
I watched this movie back in September and I have had to sit on it that long, figuring out what to say.
Simply put: “The Mikado” was boring, stupid, odd and all the songs sounded the same.
I have always heard of “The Mikado,” but I never knew what it was about. The whole hour and a half film is debating if they should kill Nanki-Poo (Baker) for loving an engaged girl.
The execution is discussed in a jovial manner. I understand dark comedies and usually enjoy them, but this was plain annoying.
While taking into consideration that this musical was written in the late 1800s, the supposed Japanese names are ridiculous. I mean…Yum Yum? This is a musical that is still performed, which honestly surprises me for the blatant disregard for Japanese culture and mockery of it.
I was ready for this movie to end from the moment I started it. I only continued watching it because I wanted to see if it would get better, and it didn’t.

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Comet Walking Around Hollywood: Turner Classic Film Festival 2015

tcmff2Comet Over Hollywood is covering the Turner Classic Film Festival for my third year this week. The festival runs from Thursday, March 26, through Sunday, March 30.

I arrived in Los Angeles, CA, by way of North Carolina on Tuesday for the sixth annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.

Once again, I will be covering various events, film screenings and interviews throughout the festival.

Classic films have been a large part of my life so it’s a pleasure to share film experiences with others equally as passionate.

What am I most excited about this year?
-New-to-me Lizabeth Scott film “Too Late for Tears” (1949)
-New-to-me Robert Cummings film “Reign of Terror” (1949) with actor Norman Lloyd in attendance.
-“Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939) on 35mm with son of Henry Fonda, actor Peter Fonda discussing the film
-New-to-me “Don’t Bet on Women” (1931), starring Jeannette MacDonald in her only non-singing role.
-James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) with George Lazenby in attendance.
-New-to-me hilariously terrible looking “Boom” (1968) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
-New-to-me rare Walt Disney film “So Dear to My Heart” (1948)
-“The Loved One” (1965) on the big screen with Robert Morse in attendance.

How can you follow me? 
Twitter: @HollywoodComet
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cometoverhollywood
Instagram: @HollywoodComet
Or here! CometOverHollywood.com

Though Robert Osborne can not attend the festival this year, he will be in our hearts and thoughts. #GetWellBob I'm pictured here with Mr. Osborne in 2013.

Though Robert Osborne can not attend the festival this year, he will be in our hearts and thoughts. #GetWellBob
I’m pictured here with Mr. Osborne in 2013.

Are you heading to the festival? Comment below and let us know what you are most excited about at this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.

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

 

Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Audie Murphy

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Audie Murphy with the Medal of Honor.

Audie Murphy with the Medal of Honor.

After World War II, many men returned home from being a hero overseas to not having a difficult time finding work in the United States. Some, who didn’t know what else to do, turned to acting.

For example, after 10 years in the Navy, Ernest Borgnine’s mother suggested he become an actor because he was always “making a damn fool of his self in front of people anyways.”

Audie Murphy, the United States’s most-decorated soldier during World War II, was no exception. Unfortunately, his film career was not as stellar as Borgnine, Tony Curtis or James Arness who performed after fighting overseas.

It was another Hollywood actor and a World War I veteran, James Cagney, who saw Murphy on the cover of the July 16, 1945, LIFE magazine. Cagney was impressed by Murphy’s good looks and invited him to Hollywood, according to the Arlington National Cemetery’s biography on Murphy.

Audie Murphy on the cover of LIFE magazine.

Audie Murphy on the cover of LIFE magazine.

But the road to war hero and film stardom started when he sought to leave the life he had in Texas. Born to poor sharecroppers, his father left the family of 10, his mother died when Murphy was 16 and his brothers and sisters were being sent to orphanages or relatives. At age 17 in 1942, Murphy lied about his age to join the Marines, but they said he was too short and he was unable to join he paratroopers, according to Arlington National Cemetery.

Murphy first saw combat in 1943 while he was with the 15th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa, preparing to invade Sicily. His unit then trained for the southern France invasion, Operation Anvil-Dragoon, where his division had 4,500 casualties, according to Arlington National Cemetery.

The unit was in combat for a total of 543 days, about 150–Murphy served 390 of that– more than any other and Murphy was one of the few to survive. The unit had 1,100 officers and 21,000 enlisted men. Of that, 175 officers and 3,300 enlisted men were killed, said Hank Auld in an Oct.2, 1955, article, former commander of the 15th Regiment.

The act of heroism Murphy, now a lieutenant, is most known for occurred on Jan 26, 1945, near Holtzwihr in France. The Allies were up against six German Panzer tanks and 250 soldiers. Murphy got on an abandoned tank and fired on the advancing Germans; firing for approximately an hour. He was injured in the leg but continued on and killed 50 soldiers. It is said Murphy killed more than 200 Nazis during World War II. This was one of three injuries Murphy sustained, he had two in his legs and one in his hip.

“I expected to see the whole damn tank destroyer blow up under him any minute,” veteran Pfc. Anthony Abramski was quoted in a New York Times article. “For an hour he held off the enemy force single-handed, fighting against impossible odds. It was the greatest display of gut and courage I have ever seen.”

Murphy awarded for valor in 1945. Original caption: 1945-Europe: ANOTHER MEDAL FOR MOST DECORATED AMERICAN SOLDIER. General Alexander Patch of the U.S. 7th Army decorates Lt. Audie Murphy of Farmersville, Texas with the Medal of Honor.. Lt. Murphy is the most decorated American soldier, holder of every decoration for bravery save the legion of merit. He rose from the rank of private to become a company commander in 30 months of combat duty with the veteran third division.

Murphy awarded for valor in 1945.
Original caption: 1945-Europe: ANOTHER MEDAL FOR MOST DECORATED AMERICAN SOLDIER. General Alexander Patch of the U.S. 7th Army decorates Lt. Audie Murphy of Farmersville, Texas with the Medal of Honor.. Lt. Murphy is the most decorated American soldier, holder of every decoration for bravery save the legion of merit. He rose from the rank of private to become a company commander in 30 months of combat duty with the veteran third division.

Murphy was recognized with the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military honor, for this act. Along with the Medal of Honor, he was the highest decorated soldier during World War II with 28 medals, including recognition from France and Belgium. Other honors include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and several Purple Hearts. In 2013, Murphy posthumously received the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, after his sister Nadine Murphy Lokey campaigned for him to be recognized.

Despite his heroism, Murphy was very shy. He didn’t smoke and he didn’t drink, according to the June 2,1971, article “Reporter recalls conversation with Audie Murphy,” written by Associated Press reporter William Barnard, recalling when he met Murphy in 1945.

“They talk about bravery. Well, I’ll tell you what bravery really is,” Murphy told Barnard in 1945. “Bravery is just determination to do a job that you know has to be done. If you throw in discomforts and lack of sleep and anger, it is easier to be brave. Just wanting to be back in a country like this can make a man brave. I have seen many a doughfoot do many a brave thing because he wanted to get the war over with in a hurry. Many a guy who wanted to come home worse than anything else in the world will stay over here forever. They are the fellows I want the honors to go to, not me.”

When he returned home to Texas, officials chartered a plane to fly him to Dallas and a parade was held in his honor in Farmersville. However, Murphy changed all of the plans to ride with Barnard to see his family.

Murphy wanted to go to West Point but his injuries prevented him from passing the physical, according to a Jan. 1, 1967, Los Angeles Times article, “Excitement’s Gone for Murphy.”

Audie Murphy in "To Hell and Back" (1955), the dramatization of Murphy's memoirs.

Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back” (1955), the dramatization of Murphy’s memoirs.

In 1945, Murphy at 20 years old and went to Hollywood by Cagney’s suggestion. He also stayed in the military after the war by joining the Texas Army National Guard.

“It beats picking cotton, but that’s about all,” Murphy said about acting in 1967.

Cagney was organizing his own production company. Murphy was nervous and distraught when Cagney met him, and Cagney invited him to stay at his home and rest in Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills, according to “Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950” by Kevin Starr.

His war experiences plagued Murphy with nightmares, an upset stomach, headaches and he could only sleep with a pistol under his pillow. He eventually turned to sleeping pills to avoid the nightmares, according to Starr’s book.

Murphy later become one of the first veterans to discuss post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a 2013 Los Angeles Times article. The PTSD was the cause of his divorce from actress Wanda Hendrix, who he was married to from 1949 to 1950.

To help his acting, Murphy studied to lose his Texas accent, took dancing lessons and learned how to fence at the Actors Lab to prepare for acting. However, Cagney’s production company failed by 1947, and Murphy was staying at the health club on La Cienega Boulevard with other veterans, according to Starr’s book.

World War II veteran, actor Audie Murphy's grave in Arlington National Cemetery. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

World War II veteran, actor Audie Murphy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Murphy’s first film was a small role in the western “Beyond Glory” (1948). Most of his film were westerns and many are sadly forgettable. His most famous film roles are “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951) and “To Hell and Back” (1955), where Murphy played himself in the film adapted from his 1949 memoirs.

After making 40 films from 1948 to 1969, Murphy left Hollywood. Murphy never felt he was much of an actor.

“I’ve made 40 pictures. I made the same western every time, but just with different horses,” Murphy is quoted in the Jan. 1, 1967, Los Angeles times article.

Murphy was just 47 and a father of two sons when he died in 1971. His plane crashed while flying in Virginia. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His grave is one of the most visited, along with President John F. Kennedy’s, according to the Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1967 Murphy was asked how people survive a war.

“I don’t think they ever do,” he said.

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

Musical Monday: Serenade (1956)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
“Serenade” –Musical #510

serena3

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Anthony Mann

Starring:
Mario Lanza, Joan Fontaine, Sara Montiel, Vincent Price, Joseph Callelia, Vince Edwards, Ed Platt

Plot:
Vineyard worker Damon (Lanza) has dreams of becoming an opera star. When socialite Kendall Hale (Fontaine) gets lost and spots him in vineyard, makes Damon her project to make him famous. But like other countless athletes and artists, Kendall builds them up to toss them aside, causing destruction to each one. Damon is no exception. After a break down, Damon goes to Mexico where he tries to rebuild his life.

Trivia:

Mario Lanza dressed in costume "Othello."

Mario Lanza dressed in costume “Othello.”

-Adapted from a James M. Cain novel.
-Metropolitan Opera Singer Licia Albanese is featured in the “Othello” scene.
-Mario Lanza’s first film in three years.
-A brief part of “Othello” is performed in the film. While Lanza is only in costume for 14 minutes, the makeup took four hours, according to a March 24, 1956, “Miami News” article.
-In the film, Juana (Montiel) becomes Damon’s wife. In the Cain book, she is a prostitute and the two open a brothel together. Also in the book, Damon struggles with bisexuality.

Notable Songs:
-“Dio Ti Giocondi” performed by Mario Lanza and Licia Albanese
-“Serenade” performed by Mario Lanza
-“Ave Maria” performed by Mario Lanza

The only really exciting part of the film.

The only really exciting part of the film.

My Review:
Simply put, “Serenade” is dull.
It’s a slow moving, predictable plot. The plot is predictable and not new: the mature society lady who molds an artist just to move on to the next project. The most interesting characters were played by the secondary roles. Vincent Price was the most interesting character as he helps Lanza with his career. It’s also interesting to see character actor Joseph Calleia as an elderly music lover.
The most sympathetic character was Juana, played by Sara Montiel. She was lovely and also brought two rather exciting scenes to an otherwise boring movie.
While Mario Lanza has a beautiful voice and I enjoy opera, his songs are also boring. It is disappointing that the “Othello” scene is so brief.
“Serenade” is overly dramatic and overly long. Even Anthony Mann’s direction and beautiful music could not save this film.

 

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Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Lee Marvin

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Note: Johnny Carson once said Marvin fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima with Bob Keeshan, who played Capt. Kangaroo. This is incorrect. Marvin was in the Battle of Saipan and Keeshan did not see combat.

Portrait of Lee Marvin

Actor Lee Marvin in the 1960s.

Actor Lee Marvin, known for his premature silver hair, frequently played gruff and tough characters throughout his acting career that began in 1950 and ended in 1986. Off screen, he was known for crazy, reckless shenanigans but was a “team player” and worked to get the best from his co-stars on set. This could be due to his military background.

Like many post-war stars including Tony Curtis, Clint Eastwood and Ernest Borgnine, Marvin served in World War II.

“The war really had an effect on me,” Marvin said many years after the war, quoted in the book “Lee Marvin: Point Blank” by Dwayne Epstein.

In August 1942, Marvin, 18, enlisted in the Marines in New York. He trained at Parris Island in South Carolina and a base at New River, NC. His father, Lamont Marvin, who decorated in World War I, taught his sons how to handle a gun. Lamont, 51, also enlisted with his son. Lee’s father helped set up anti-aircraft gun emplacements in England, according to “Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines” by James E. Wise and Anne Collier Rehill.

Lee Marvin during World War II (Photo submitted to LIFE magazine, 1968)

Lee Marvin during World War II (Photo submitted to LIFE magazine, 1968)

Marvin went to Quartermaster School in North Carolina and was promoted to corporal, then was ordered to Service Company, Marine Barracks at Camp Elliot in Sand Dieo, CA. But he was demoted to private after Marvin, known for being a troublemaker, caused some issues. Also due to his behavior, Marvin was on mess duty for a month, according to the Wise and Rehill book.

But in January 1944, Marvin was done with his mess duties and was shipped to the Marshall Islands. He was with D Company, 4th Tank Battallion (Scout-Snipers), Headquarters Battalion, 4th Marine Division, according to the Wise and Rehill book. Marvin was part of the 22d Marines, which would survey the area before the attack, specifically Kwajalein. Once the United States Marines had taken Eniwetok and Kwajalein, Marvin was sent to Hawaii for training and then he was sent to Saipan in June 1944, according to the Wise and Rehill book.

After witnessing various horrific acts during the war, Marvin was quoted in Epstein’s book saying, “This insanity, this raving inhumanity- it was then I suddenly knew: This is what war does to a man, what war means.”

In the invasion of Saipan, Marvin was one of six out of 247 men in his unit who wasn’t killed, according to a Sept. 27, 1968, LIFE magazine article.

“We went in on Yellow Beach Two. The first day…we clawed forward and hit the basic scrub of the beach…They (the Japanese) had us nicely pinpointed on a checker-board. They didn’t miss,” Marvin is quoted in the Wise and Rehill book. “The artillery got very bad, and all the bombing was coming down very heavy…We lost quite a few that night.”

Marvin was wounded in June 1944 at age 21 in Saipan’s “Death Valley.” He was blown off his stretcher and was on the beach during a counter attack, watching his fellow Marines die.

“I was on Saipan and got hit,” Marvin wrote a letter to his father “Pop” on July 3, 1944, quoted in Epstein’s book. “Not too bad but bad enough to hamper me if I stayed. I was hit in my left buttocks just below the belt line. You may think it’s funny to get hit in the can like that but at the time I was very lucky that is all I got. I was pinned down and could not move an inch and then a sniper started on me. His first shot hit my foot and his second just about three inches in front of my nose. It was a matter of time, as I knew I would get hit sooner or later. If I got up and ran, I would not be writing this letter so I just kept down.”

Marvin during World War II (Photo courtesy of LIFE, 1968)

Marvin during World War II (Photo courtesy of LIFE, 1968)

He was treated for 13 months in naval hospitals for a severed sciatic nerve and was awarded the Purple Heart in a hospital on Guadalcanal. He was nearly permanently paralyzed by his injury, according to Wise and Rehill’s book.

Marvin wanted to get back into combat but his injury kept him in the hospital preventing that. Not being able to return made him feel angry, frustrated and guilty, according Epstein’s book.

“It (the war) ruined him,” Marvin’s father is quoted in Epstein’s book. “He came home from that half dead, totally broken. He was never the same.”

Marvin was unable to reenlist due to his disability status that came with his injury.

Lee Marvin's grave at Arlington National Cemetery, located just below the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Lee Marvin’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, located just below the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Marvin worked odd jobs until he got into acting in New York. He was in off-Broadway plays from 1948 to 1950 until he started in television and films in 1950.

In 1968, Marvin returned to the Pacific for “Hell in the Pacific,” co-starring Toshirô Mifune, about an American pilot during World War II who is on a deserted uninhabited Pacific island with a Japanese Naval captain. During the war, Mifune was a Japanese officer.

“They (the islands) were all beautiful then, when you went in. That was a strange thing about it,” Marvin is quoted in LIFE magazine. “I remember what it looked like when we came in past the reef. The place had been bombed and shelled for weeks and the floor of the ocean was covered with brass casings that hadn’t deteriorated yet. Then the smell hit you- death and fire. You’d give a panic look to your buddy. ‘How did we get here?’”

Marvin wondered if returning to the island would return “old gung-ho feelings,” but he said he felt nothing; maybe if it had been three years after the war but not 23.

Marvin died in 1987 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Marvin rests in section 7A, just below the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This area is for distinguished veterans, which include World War II fighter pilot, Col. Pappy Boyington, boxer Joe Lewis and ABC reporter Frank Reynolds.

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

Hollywood Military Wives in Arlington National Cemetery

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Spouses and minor children of veterans are able to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. A few actresses are buried with their military husbands including Priscilla Lane, Constance Bennett and Phyllis Kirk.

Eligibility includes a widow or widower of an eligible member, including the widow(er) of a member of the Armed Forces who was lost or buried at sea or was determined missing in action. A surviving spouse who has re-married and whose remarriage is void, terminated by death, or dissolved by annulment or divorce by a court with basic authority to render such decrees regains eligibility for burial in Arlington National Cemetery unless it is determined that the decree of annulment or divorce was secured through fraud or collusion, according to Arlington National Cemetery’s guidelines.

Widows or widowers of service members who are interred in Arlington National Cemetery as part of a group burial may be interred in the same cemetery but not in the same grave.

Priscilla Lane and Joseph A. Howard

Actress Priscilla Lane in the late-1930s.

Actress Priscilla Lane in the late-1930s.

Actress Priscilla Lane, famous for her roles in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” the “Four Daughters” trilogy and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Saboteur,” met Army Air Force Lt. Joseph A. Howard in 1942. They were married in May 1942, and Lane took a suspension from Warner Brothers so she could travel with Howard from base to base until he was shipped overseas to fight in World War II.

“At Warner’s it is said she requested the time off. But nothing has been said about her permanent retirement,” gossip columnist Louella Parsons wrote in an Oct. 2, 1942 column.

Lane turned down several movie offers and said marriage was a 24 hour job.

“Priscilla has had plenty of offers to return to the movies but so far has passed them up. “Marriage is a 24 hour job,” she says,” quoted in an Oct. 24, 1943, column by Inga Arvad.

Priscilla Lane, her husband Joseph Howard and their children in 1958.

Priscilla Lane, her husband Joseph Howard and their children in 1958.

Lane did not return to films until 1947 for the Eddie Bracken film “Fun on a Weekend” (1947).

“War veterans aren’t the only ones returning to movie sets,” said a June 13,1946, article by Bob Thomas. “At least one war wife is coming back too—Priscilla Lane. Three and a half years ago, Priscilla…disappeared from the Hollywood scene after making ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’”

Lane was quoted in the article saying she found other things were more important after the war started.

After the war, the Howards moved to Van Nuys, CA, in 1946 where Joseph worked as a contractor, according to “The Women of Warner Brothers” by Daniel Bubbeo.

They later moved to lake front property in Massachusetts. Rumors got out that Lane was retiring from show business, which she denied.

“I love show business, but my first duty is to a wonderful husband and my two lovely children,” she said.

Howard and Lane had four children together: Joseph (1945), Hannah (1950), Judith (1953) and James (1955).

She still did some commercials and had a morning show in Boston called “The Priscilla Lane Show” where she interviewed guests and screened old films.

Also in her retirement, she was active with her garden, volunteered in hospitals, was a Girl Scout troop leader and directed school plays. Her son Joe said she was similar to her characters on screen; high spirited and always in the mood for a joke, according to Bubbeo’s book.

Joseph Howard died in 1976 and Priscilla Lane died in 1995. Both are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Joseph Howard died in 1976 and Priscilla Lane died in 1995. Both are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

The Howards moved to New Hampshire in 1972 to the Howard family farm in Deer, NH. On May 8, 1976, Howard passed away at the age of 61 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

“I’m still trying to pull myself together,” Lane said about her husband’s death a year later in a 1977 interview in the Boston Herald American.

Lane was diagnosed in 1994 with lung cancer and refused radiation or chemotherapy, according to Bubbeo’s book. She passed away in 1995 and was buried with her husband in Arlington.

Constance Bennett and Brig. Gen. John Theron Coulter

 To get to Bennett and Coulter’s grave we hiked up a steep hill…realizing there was a road once we got to the top. This was the most difficult to find of all the graves we visited.

Actress Constance Bennett at the height of her career in the 1930s.

Actress Constance Bennett at the height of her career in the 1930s.

Actress Constance Bennett, sister of Joan Bennett and most famous in the 1930s, met John Theron Coulter in 1941 when he was an Army Air Corp colonel. Originally from Mississippi, Coulter’s love of flying took him to Officer’s Candidate School and he was then stationed in Riverside, CA. When World War II broke out, his commanding officer asked if he wanted to stay in the United States or go overseas. His wife Martha was in the hospital recovering from a wreck so he stayed in the United States with her, according to “The Bennetts: An Acting Family” by Brian Kellow.

In the United States, Coulter served as the technical advisor on military pictures at Warner Brothers Studios; teaching combat tips to actors such as Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, according to Kellow’s book.

Bennett and Coulter met at a Warner Brothers party that he was at with his wife Martha. He soon divorced Martha for Bennett. However, in April 1941, Constance married actor Gilbert Roland, but once Roland was drafted after Pearl Harbor, her relationship with Coulter continued. The two married in 1946, two days after her divorce with Roland was finalized. This was Bennett’s fifth marriage.

Constance Bennett and John Theron Coulter on their 1946 wedding day.

Constance Bennett and John Theron Coulter on their 1946 wedding day.

In 1948, Coulter, now a general, joined the Berlin Airlift Task Force in December 1948, as group commander of the 60th Troop Carrier Group. He became Wing Commander of the 60th Troop Carrier Wing and commander of the Royal Air Force Station, at Fassberg, Germany. When the wing and base were deactivated after the airlift, Coulter was named assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, Headquarters, USAFE.

Morale was low on the Fassberg, Germany base and Bennett helped cheer people with her high spirits and kept the RAF wives entertained. She also attracted her Hollywood friends to come and entertain, according to “The Berlin Airlift” by Ann and John Tusa. Bennett would also work with the other wives distrusting coffee and cakes at Fassberg, according to “The Candy Bombers” by Wolfgang J. Huschke. Bennett also often greeted the pilots and ate with mechanics in the mess hall, according to “Daring Young Men” by Richard Reeves.

While stationed in Germany, Bennett also produced the play “John Loves Mary” for occupying forces starring father and daughter actors, Gene and June Lockhart.

Constance Bennett and John Coulter's grave at Arlington National Cemetery (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Constance Bennett and John Coulter’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

The Coulters moved to Washington, DC in 1952, where Bennett also produced plays in the area and occasionally had singing engagement. The couple lived on Northwest Thirtieth Street in Georgetown, according to a June 1953 Associated Press article.

In 1958, Coulter was named the commander of the 85th Air Division and the couple moved to Richard-Gebaur Air Force Base in Missouri, he was commander of the 20th Air Division. They also moved to Colorado, Paris and New Jersey.

Bennett died in 1965 of a cerebral brain hemorrhage. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery due to her husband’s military involvement. After Bennett’s death, he married actress Virginia Pine in 1972. Coulter died in  1995 and is buried with Bennett in Arlington.

Phyllis Kirk and Warren Bush

Though I did not visit Kirk’s grave, I still wanted to note she was buried in Arlington.

Actress Phyllis Kirk in the early-1950s.

Actress Phyllis Kirk in the early-1950s.

Phyllis Kirk starred in 1950s films such as “Two Weeks with Love” and “House of Wax.” Towards the end of her Hollywood career, Kirk married CBS news producers Warren Bush in 1966. Bush was in the Army Air Force during World War II. Bush passed away in 1991 at age 65. Kirk died in 2006 and both are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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

Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Jackie Cooper

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Jackie Cooper as a child star in the 1930s.

Jackie Cooper as a child star in the 1930s.

Known for his constant tears that rolled down chubby cheeks, Jackie Cooper was one of the top child actors of the 1930s.

But life changed for Cooper when he joined the Navy during World War II.

“I had gone into the Navy as a youth, and I came out as a man,” Cooper wrote in his 1981 autobiography, “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog.”

Cooper served in the Navy during World War II; going into the service in 1943 and was discharged in 1946.

“I think the only time I really regretted being recognizable was during the war,” he wrote.“It was tough on celebrities then. The officers wanted to show everybody they didn’t play favorites, so they were twice as hard as us. The men wanted to show us they were as good as we were, so they would go out of their way to pick fights, to prove they were our equals or betters….And yet for the duration, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

Cooper went to Notre Dame in 1943 to 1944 for military training, but left after a scandal of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A teenager got drunk in a group he was with, but Cooper was found innocent, according to his autobiography.

Jackie Cooper playing the drums during World War 2 with Claude Thornhill's band.

Jackie Cooper playing the drums during World War 2 with Claude Thornhill’s band.

Bandleader Claude Thornhill was overseas originally in a Navy band started by Artie Shaw. When the band broke up, Thornhill asked Vice-Admiral Calhoun if he could form another band that played a remote bases in the South Pacific. The band was called Thornhill’s Raiders. Cooper, who was a drummer outside of his acting career, had played with Thornhill previously in 1942, and he called Cooper asking to join the band, according to Cooper’s autobiography.

In 1944, Cooper was promoted to seaman third class and was performing at the Aiea Naval Hospital in Oahu. Starting in January 1945, the band performed for eight months over 28 islands across the Pacific via Navy Air Transport, according to his autobiography.

Singer Dennis Day was also in the band. Friction between Day and Thornhill caused Thornhill to leave and morale for the band went downhill.

 

Jackie Cooper when he was discharged in 1946.  Original caption: Joyously waving his discharge paper, movie actor Jackie Cooper prepares to depart for Hollywood after leaving Navy separation center at Terminal Island, Long Beach. Cooper served 26 months and was discharged with rank of Musician, 3rd class.

Jackie Cooper when he was discharged in 1946.
Original caption: Joyously waving his discharge paper, movie actor Jackie Cooper prepares to depart for Hollywood after leaving Navy separation center at Terminal Island, Long Beach. Cooper served 26 months and was discharged with rank of Musician, 3rd class.

“The war was just out there, and you could see what it did,” Cooper wrote. “You knew that the public was being fed pap (we saw the newspaper reports on Tarawa that 1,500 had been killed, and we had no trouble counting 5,500 graves), and you knew the war would last 10 years more, and you wondered if you were helping much by playing music. Yet, you also saw what happened to so many good guys—dead, dying, blinded, horribly mutilated…We (the band) often talked about it. Were we doing enough? Generally, we had to admit we weren’t.”

Cooper saw action once on Ulithi. The harbor had more than 5,550 ships of U.S. Navy carriers, gunboats and supply vessels and the Japanese Air Forces attacked. The Japanese had very little left to fight with, and one Kamikaze attempted to crash into a ship went right into the water, he wrote.

“Then one of the enemy crashed his plane into the fantail of the carrier USS Randolph; all the ammo aboard its aircraft blew up, and hundreds of sailors were killed,” Cooper wrote. “The day after, we went aboard what was left of the hangar deck of the Randolph and there were ankle-deep puddles of blood. From that moment on I recognized how artificial war movies are.”

Cooper was on the island New Caledonia when the war ended, and then went on a goodwill tour of New Zealand. Cooper was discharged in January 1946.

After returning from the war, Cooper returned to Hollywood but eventually turned to directing rather than acting.

Jackie Cooper's grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Jackie Cooper’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

He joined the Navy again as a Naval Reserve in 1961 and remained remaining in the reserves until 1982. His rejoining started with Naval Reserve recruitment advertisements until the Navy urged him to join. Cooper was a lieutenant commander and was promoted to captain in 1973. During his time in the Navy, Cooper made training films and promotions, but declined promoting the Vietnam War, because he disagreed. In 1970, Cooper became an honorary Naval Aviator, an honor also bestowed to actor Bob Hope.

Upon Cooper’s retirement in 1982, he was decorated with the Legion of Merit by Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. Other than James Stewart, no performer in his industry has achieved a higher uniformed rank in the US military, according to the U.S. Navy.

Cooper passed away in 2011 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

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Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Dashiell Hammett

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Author Dashiell Hammett's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Author Dashiell Hammett’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

The man who invented Nick and Nora Charles in the 1934 book “The Thin Man,” is a United States Army veteran of World War I and II.

Author Samuel Dashiell Hammett, one of the most influential authors of hard-boiled detective novels, is famous for writing “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Thin Man” and “The Glass Key.”

He also wrote the screen plays for “Watch On the Rhine” (1943), “After the Thin Man” (1936), “The Glass Key” (1942) and “Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941)

But before his detective novel days, Hammett was a soldier.

Enlisting in the Army in 1918, Hammett was a sergeant in the Motor Ambulance Corp. While serving, he contracted tuberculosis; a disease that affected him for the rest of his life, according to the PBS American Masters series.

However, Hammett never got overseas during World War I. Frequent hospitals visits due to the flu and tuberculosis kept him stateside before he was discharged in May 1919, according to “Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers” in the Great War by Arlen J. Hansen.

Staff of the Adak Newspaper that Hammett edited. (Photo Courtesy of Anchorage Museum)

Staff of the Adak Newspaper that Hammett edited. (Photo Courtesy of Anchorage Museum)

But in World War II, Hammett’s military duties were more active. Hammett,48, picked up his military career in 1941, at the height of his fame. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army as a private and was honorably discharged as a sergeant three year later.

Hammett fought against the Japanese in Battle of Attu, islands located off of Alaska, which was part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign. This is the only World War II battle fought on incorporated United States territory. The battle lasted more than two weeks of hand-to-hand combat in arctic conditions.

Hammett during World War II.

Hammett during World War II.

“Modern armies had never fought before in any field that was like the Aleutians,” Hammett was quoted in “The Capture of Attu: A World War II Battle as Told by the Men who Fought There,” by Robert J. Mitchell, Sewell Tappan Tyng and Nelson L. Drummond. “We could borrow no knowledge from the past. We would have to learn as we went along, how to live and fight and win this land; the least known part of our America.”

Hammett also edited a post newspaper while serving on the Alaskan base, according to a 2009 article from the Alaska Dispatch News.

In between his service in the World Wars, Hammett established himself writing detective novels, creating detective character Sam Spade. Many of his novels were turned into popular Hollywood films, most notably “The Thin Man,” which became a series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and marking the screen debut of Sydney Greenstreet.

Hammett passed away in New York in 1961 but was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.

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Musical Monday: My Wild Irish Rose (1947)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
“My Wild Irish Rose” –Musical #309

picture

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Arlene Dahl, Andrea King, Alan Hale, George Tobias, George O’Brien, Sara Allgood, Ben Blue, William Frawley

Plot:
Fictional, biographical film on Irish singer Chauncey Olcott (Morgan); chronicling his rise to fame and connections with performer Lillian Russell (King) and William Scanlan (Frawley). As he climbs the ladder to fame, Olcott meets and falls in love with Rose Donovan (Dahl), who’s father (Hale) does not want her to be involved with Olcott.

Trivia:

Dennis Morgan as Chauncey Olcott and Andrea King as Lillian Russell in "My Wild Irish Rose" (1947).

Dennis Morgan as Chauncey Olcott and Andrea King as Lillian Russell in “My Wild Irish Rose” (1947).

-Chauncey Olcott was an performer, songwriter and actor who’s career spanned from 1894 until 1920. Born in New York, Olcott’s family was of Irish decent, so most of his songs had Irish themes to them. He was born in 1858 and died in 1932. According to critic Dorothy Parker, Lillian Russell and Olcott were friends and she helped his career.
-Alexis Smith was considered for the role of Lillian Russell, which went to Andrea King. Virginia Bruce was also set for the role, according to “The Women of Warner Brothers” by Daniel Bubbeo.
-Andrea King was dubbed in her role as Lillian Russell, according to Bubbeo’s book.
-“My costumes were the most beautiful I had ever seen and my jewelry was real. I had two armed guards with me at all times,” King said in Bubbeo’s book.
-Arlene Dahl’s first credited role.
-Ray Heindorf and Max Steiner were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
-The film was based from a 1939 story written by Olcott’s widow, Rita, called “Song in His Heart,” according to Bubbeo’s book.
-One of Warner Brother’s top films of 1948.

Highlights:
-Any time Dennis Morgan sings in any film is a highlight.

Dennis Morgan performs in "My Wild Irish Rose" (1947).

Dennis Morgan performs in “My Wild Irish Rose” (1947).

Notable Songs:
-Hush-a-Bye, Wee Rose of Killarney performed by Dennis Morgan
-My Wild Irish Rose performed by Dennis Morgan
-When Irish Eyes Are Smiling performed by Dennis Morgan
-Let Me Dream Some More performed by Dennis Morgan and Andrea King
-Mother Machree performed by Dennis Morgan

My Review:
chaunceyAs Comet Over Hollywood has discussed countless times before, many Hollywood biographical films, particularly those of the musical nature, are embellished and provide very little actual fact.
“My Wild Irish Rose” is no exception. The real Chauncey Olcott may look more like William Frawley than Dennis Morgan.
However, it’s a fun, colorful and entertaining film filled with notable Irish songs; all performed in Dennis Morgan’s velvety voice. While Morgan sings, George O’Brien and Ben Blue bring some comedy to the film.
Other familiar and likable Warner Brothers faces appear in this lush, Technicolor film including Alan Hale, Andrea King and George Tobias.
What I like about “My Wild Irish Rose,” is that Dennis Morgan truly gets center stage without having to share screen time, songs and leading ladies with Jack Carson. This seems to be a rare musical gem in Morgan’s career where he is the only singing lead, so we hear multiple Irish classic tunes performed by Mr. Morgan.
If you are a Dennis Morgan fan, love Irish music or simply want a nice film for St. Patrick’s Day, check out “My Wild Irish Rose.”

 

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Musical Monday: First a Girl (1935)

In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

first a girlThis week’s musical:
“First a Girl” –Musical #505

Studio:
RKO

Director:
Leigh Jason

Starring:
Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Anna Lee,

Plot:
Elizabeth (Matthews) is a delivery girl at a dress store with dreams of being a dancer. One day, she borrows a dress for an audition and doesn’t get the part. In the meanwhile, she meets down on his luck Shakespearean actor Victor (Hale) who does female impersonations. After ruining the dress, Elizabeth is too afraid to return to the dress store. Victor allows her to get in on his act. When Victor is too ill to go on stage as a female impersonator, he grooms Elizabeth to act as a female impersonator, even though she is already a woman. Elizabeth becomes a huge success but problems arise when she falls in love with a man.

Trivia:
-Late remade as “Victor/Victoria” (1982) starring James Garner, Julie Andrews and Robert Preston.
-Adapted from a 1933 German film called “Viktor and Viktoria”

Highlights:
-Jessie Matthews drinking with Griffith Jones, who believes she’s a man. However, she is not used to the strong beverages that he keeps ordering.

Jessie Matthews, Sonny Hale and Griffith Jones in "First a Girl"

Jessie Matthews, Sonny Hale and Robert Griffith in “First a Girl”

Notable Songs:
-It’s Written All Over Your Face performed by Jessie Matthews
-Everything’s In Rhythm With My Heart performed by Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale
-Half and Half performed by Jessie Matthews
-Say The Word And It’s Yours performed by Jessie Matthews

Everything’s In Rhythm With My Heart:

My Review:
When this film began I kept thinking how similar it was to the 1982 film “Victor/Victoria.” Until seeing this movie, I had no idea it was a remake.
“First a Girl” is an entertaining little British film with a subject matter that would probably not have been seen in a 1935 American film. Not only is Jessie Matthews supposed to be a cross dressing male (though the audience knows she is a female), there are some homosexual innuendos and jokes that probably would not have even been seen in a pre-code American film.
When Elizabeth begins falling for Robert (Jones), it is uncertain if he likes her character because she is a man or because she is a man that seems feminine enough to be a woman. Our main character is even a little confused by this.
When I started this film, I was not familiar with any of the main actors but all of them were entertaining. The songs in this musical are forgettable, but it’s story line that is fairly unique for a 1930s film is pleasant, fun and enjoyable. If you come across this forgetting little gem, give it a whirl.

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