About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

Olympics to Hollywood: Vera Ralston

Vera Hrubá Ralston

Ice skaters who competed in the 1936 Winter Olympics seemed to have been attracted to Hollywood.

The best known is Norwegian Sonja Henie, who starred in 20th Century Fox musical comedies in the 1930s. Then English Belita, who entered films in 1944, skated in a few musicals before turning to film-noir roles.

Then there was Vera Hrubá Ralston of Czechoslovakia. Ralston entered into films in the early 1940s and starred in more than just ice skating musicals, including a couple of westerns with John Wayne.

Born Vera Hrubá, Vera studied ballet as a child and turned to ice skating when she was 10 years old, according to her 2003 Los Angeles Times obituary.

She skated in the women’s figure skating singles in the 1936 Winter Olympics, which are now famous because of Adolf Hitler’s attendance. Vera came in 17th place at the Olympics.

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Watching 1939: Ice Follies of 1939 (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: Ice Follies of 1939

Release date: March 10, 1939

Cast:  Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Lew Ayres, Lewis Stone, Marie Blake, The International Ice Follies, Bess Ehrhardt, Roy Shipstad, Eddie Shipstad, Oscar Johnson, La Verne Busher

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Reinhold Schünzel

Cast: Joan Crawford, Lew Ayres, James Stewart, Lewis Stone, Marie Blake, Darla Hood (uncredited), Lionel Stander, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Bess Ehrhardt, The International Ice Follies

Plot:
Larry Hall (Stewart) and Eddie Burgess (Ayres) are a successful ice skating act until Larry and Mary Mckay (Crawford) fall in love and she’s included in the act as a singer. The trio fails and they lose their job. Larry and Mary gets a job as an actress in Hollywood to help support them. She doesn’t realize until later that her contract says that she isn’t allowed to be married without the studio’s consent. Larry can’t handle both their fame and their secret marriage. He leaves saying he will return when he makes a success with ice capades show.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie

She was the youngest athlete in the first Winter Olympics, the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals, and one of Hollywood’s top-grossing stars.

Norwegian athlete turned actress Sonja Henie skated across the silver screen in 12 films, bringing a novelty to movies and helping popularize figure skating in the United States.

“People would go out and buy skates, costumes and take lessons because of her. Ice skating developed in the United States because of her,” Henie’s former skating partner Geary Steffen said in the documentary “Sonja Henie: Queen of the Ice” (1995).

Born in Norway in 1912, Henie’s father, Wilhelm, was the track cycling World Champion of 1894, setting two world records, and he was a speed skater. Because of his athletic interest, Wilhelm encouraged his children Leif and Sonja to become involved with sports, according to the documentary.

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Musical Monday: It’s a Pleasure (1945)

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:
It’s a Pleasure (1945) – Musical #312

Studio:
International Pictures

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Sonja Henie, Michael O’Shea, Marie McDonald, Iris Adrian, Bill Johnson, Gus Schilling, Cheryl Walker, Arthur Loft, Dave Willock (uncredited), David Janssen (uncredited)

Plot:
Don Martin (O’Shea) is a star hockey player but gets barred from the game after hitting a referee. Chris Linden (Henie) is the lead in the ice-capades and gets Don a job with the show. The show, produced by Buzz Fletcher (Johnson), is a success and Don and Chris fall in love and marry. Buzz’s wife, Gale (Fletcher), causes trouble for the couple.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Belita

Belita Jepson-Turner, known simply as “Belita,” in a publicity photo in 1947.

When it comes to ice skating in films, we all mainly think of Norwegian Olympian turned actress Sonja Henie. With her doll-like features, Henie starred in musical comedy films from 1936 to 1948.

But there is another ice skater who graced the screen on skates: Belita Jepson-Turner. Known simply as Belita, she skated, ballet danced and also acted in dramatic roles from 1944 until 1968.

Similar to Henie, Belita competed for United Kingdom in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Belita, who was 12 years old, placed 16th in the women’s singles figure skating competition. Henie won her third Olympic gold medal.

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Watching 1939: The Rookie Cop (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: The Rookie Cop

Release date: April 28, 1939

Cast:  Tim Holt, Virginia Weidler, Janet Shaw, Frank M. Thomas, Robert Emmett Keane, Monte Montague, Ace the Wonder Dog

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  David Howard

Plot:
Clem Maitland (Holt) is a police officer who is trying to get the police commissioner to agree to hiring a police dog. Clem uses the German shepherd Ace (Ace the Wonder Dog) on the job prove the dog’s value with police work. Using the dog backfires on a case and Clem is suspended. When his handyman friend Tom (Montague) gets accused of stealing a company’s payroll, Clem works with Ace to clear his name. Clem’s small young friend Nicey (Weidler) tags along to help solve the crimes.

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For better or worse: Long Hollywood marriages

The joke in pop culture is that all marriages in Hollywood are brief and frequent.

For Valentine’s Day in 2013, I created a list of 56 actors and actresses who had long, successful marriages. The list was overwhelming, and I promised a follow-up post including more long marriages.

Well five years later, I have a follow-up. This time I created a list that included nearly 60 actors. It was so long that I am only sharing 30 couples and will share more next year.

You can read the first 2013 post “In sickness and in health: Successful Hollywood marriages” here, which includes actors like Eva Marie Saint, Shirley Temple, James Stewart, Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward, and Joel McCrea/Francis Dee. 

My definition of a successful Hollywood marriage is longer than 20 years and no divorce:

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (Married 1948 until his death in 2005) Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee met in 1945 when they both starred in the play “Jeb.” Throughout their marriage, the two performed together in 11 plays and five films. Outside of their art, they were activists together. Dee and Davis celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 by releasing the book “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together,” where they were discussed their support of open marriages and that “lies, not infidelity” ruin a marriage. The two had three children: Guy Davis, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad.

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Musical Monday: Lady, Let’s Dance (1944)

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:
Lady, Let’s Dance (1944) – Musical #584

Studio:
Monogram Pictures

Director:
Frank Woodruff

Starring:
Belita, James Ellison, Walter Catlett, Lucien Littlefield, Maurice St. Clair, Barbara Woodell, Emmett Vogan, Harry Harvey, Jack Rice
Specialty performances: Skating team Frick and Frack (Werner Groebli and Hans Mauch), Henry Busse and His Orchestra, Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, Myrtle Godfrey, Lou Bring and His Orchestra

Plot:
Belita (Belita) is a refugee from Holland due to World War II working as a waitress at a Californian resort. When the hotel’s star dancer Dolores (Woodell) quits to get married, the hotel’s entertainment manager Jerry Gibson (Ellison) hires Belita to take her place. Belita becomes a great success while Jerry gets fired from his job and then is drafted into the Army.

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The Man Who was Almost Bond: John Gavin

Actor John Gavin

From Cary Grant to Rod Taylor, we have heard of many actors that were considered to play Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

And one came closer than others: John Gavin.

John Gavin, who passed away Feb. 9, 2018, is not an actor as well-known as Grant or Sean Connery, but he was a handsome leading man throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He retired from acting in the 1980s and went on to become the United States Ambassador to Mexico during the Reagan administration. Today, Gavin is best known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Lana Turner’s love interest in “Imitation of Life” (1959).

Gavin was considered for the role of James Bond after George Lazenby refused to continue playing the character after the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).

In an interview at the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, Lazenby said he got bad advice and was told to quit the role, because Bond films were going to lose popularity with changing times.

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Watching 1939: It’s a Wonderful World (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 Film: It’s a Wonderful World

Release date: May 19, 1939

Cast: Claudette Colbert, James Stewart, Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton, Frances Drake, Edgar Kennedy, Sidney Blackmer, Ernest Truex, Hans Conried, Grady Sutton, Cecilia Callejo, Cecil Cunningham, Frank Faylen (uncredited), Phillip Terry (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Wealthy Willie Heyward (Treux) is accused of murder and his private detective Guy Johnson (Stewart) is arrested for obstruction of justice for hiding Heyward after the murder. Johnson escapes the police by jumping off a train, and poetess Edwina Corday (Colbert) witnesses his escape. Guy kidnaps Edwina so she won’t report him to the police as he tries to continue to clear Heyward of murder.

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