Sunday, October 21, 2012

Are You Scared Yet?

Movies started scaring us back in the silent days when actors like Lon Chaney took on roles like the eerie phantom of the opera.  Known as ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’, Chaney’s elaborate use of makeup transformed him into frightening, but no less fascinating characters.  With the coming of sound, a new kind of evil played before us in the ghastly form of Bela Lugosi and his hypnotic Count Dracula.  Then came Frankenstein brought to life by a mad scientist and a British actor named Boris Karloff.

So just in case you want to impress your friends and family this Halloween, here are a dozen facts about the silver screen’s most famous fright masters:
       1)      Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in 1883 to profoundly deaf parents.

2)      Before he came to Hollywood, Chaney, who loved the outdoors, worked as a guide escorting tourists up Pike’s Peak.

3)      Chaney was internationally recognized for his expertise in make-up; he even wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on the subject itself.

4)      Chaney was originally cast to play the part of Count Dracula in the 1931 film, but his untimely death in 1930 from bronchial cancer, paved the way for Bela Lugosi.

5)      Bela Legosi was born Bela Lasko in 1882 in Lugos, Hungary—not far from Transylvania where Bram Stoker’s Dracula lived.

6)      Lugosi successfully played Dracula onstage beginning in 1927, but Hollywood didn’t want him.

7)      When other actors like Paul Muni and Chester Morris dropped out of the running; Universal Studios was forced to either give the part to Lugosi or cancel the film.

8)      After suffering a heart attack, Lugosi died on August 16, 1956 and was buried in his Dracula get-up—complete with make-up and cape.

9)      After Lugosi refused the part of Frankenstein because it was a non-speaking role and required heavy make-up, Boris Karloff stepped in.

10)   As Frankenstein, Karloff wore 60 pounds of make-up and accessories, including 18-pound lead-weighted boots, which increased his height to 7’6” when in costume.

11)   Karloff received fourth billing as the famous monster and wasn’t even invited to the Hollywood premiere.

12)   Off screen, the gentle Karloff was an avid gardener who enjoyed poetry.
Happy Hauntings!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Loves of Carole Lombard

If Carole Lombard were alive today, she would have just recently turned 104.  Tragically, however, her birthday celebrations were cut short after her untimely death in 1942 at the age of 33.  We all know the story:  a plane crashed in the mountains just outside of Las Vegas and she was gone.  Just like that.  But what you might not know is that before she married Gable, Lombard had two significant romances—one that ended in divorce and the other that ended in tragedy devastating Lombard, the same way her death rocked Gable.

In 1930, Carole Lombard was just coming into her own.  After a successful silent stint as one of Mack Sennett’s bathing beauties, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures.  That same year, she also met handsome actor William Powell  on the set of ‘Man of the World’ (1931).  Powell was 16 years older and recently divorced.  The couple married in a private ceremony on June 26, 1931 at Lombard’s mother’s house before honeymooning in Honolulu.  The marriage, didn’t last, but the friendship thrived.  Lombard and Powell divorced in 1933.  Despite their differences, however, the two remained loyal friends until her death nine years later.
Shortly after the divorce, Lombard was in the audience one night listening as crooner Russ Columbo sang.  The two made eye contact and the next day Colombo sent roses to the actress’ Beverly Hills home.  A romantic at heart, the 25-year-old Columbo fell hard and Lombard was equally smitten.   In Columbo, it seems, she had found an equal.  He supported her career and celebrated her successes while she did all she could to help the radio star break into films.  Lombard even began taking instructions to convert to Catholicism—the faith Columbo actively practiced.  On the cusp of a successful film career and in the middle of a momentous love story, the singer was accidentally killed by a bullet that unexpectedly discharged from an antique gun. 

At the news of Columbo’s death, Lombard was inconsolable.  She attended his funeral at Hollywood’s Blessed Sacrament Cathedral along with her mother.  Her brother, Stuart, was a pall bearer.  It took some time, but she managed to pull her life together and go on to make her mark in Hollywood—both on-screen and off.  The sting of losing Columbo, however, still surfaced every now and then.   Four years after his death, Lombard was interviewed for an article in Life Magazine.  When she was asked about Clark Gable, the interviewer referred to him as the love of her life.  According to Lombard’s brother, Stuart, she quickly corrected the reporter:  “Russ Columbo was the love of my life.  And that is very definitely off the record.”  Of course, that was before she became Mrs. Gable.  I wonder what she would say today.