Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Film Stars 1934 1935

I mentioned the other day that I had bought an old book of stars of cinema from a second-hand book shop. I've been having a look through it and here's a reminder of a few stars of yesterday. Well, 82-83 years ago to be a little more accurate.

Let's first put the book into some context. Cinemas at this time projected films that were almost entirely shot in black and white. There had been some experiments with early colour even in the silent era, but black and white would remain dominant until the early 1950s with Technicolor and Eastmancolor film stock.

The book has a number of full page portraits of stars of the period and also some pictorial reviews of selected films with several photographs to a page. Mostly these are not of sufficient quality to provide a scan suitable for inclusion here. Finally there are some fairly mundane or at best less flattering photographs of some stars and I've taken the opportunity to include some of my favourites from other sources. Inevitably I have to say I don't own copyright of any of these photos, though their age and subject matter makes them of public interest. All of the photographs I have included from other sources are already well represented on the Internet and in the public domain.

Let's start - as does the book - with a shot of actress Merle Oberon. She was born on 19 February 1911 in India where she lived before moving to England when she was 17. Her father was English, her mother from Ceylon. She had a hit and miss start in movies until she was cast as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). She was seen in that film by Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks who joined forces with both Merle and the director Alexander Korda and made The Private Life of Don Juan. Merle Oberon plays the part of a tempestuous dancer.

A still from The Private Life of Don Juan showing a tempestuous dancer trogging off up the stairs...

Douglas Fairbanks was one of those who managed the transition of his career from the silent to the sound era of movies. He was one of the four stars (with D.W. Griffiths, Mary Pickford and Charles Chaplin) to form the company United Artists in 1919. He was acrobatic and graceful - the latter helped by his having stage props such as staircases or spaces he had to leap especially measured to distances he could manage most gracefully! He is also the father of Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. Erm... who else could have been...?

Another actor from the silent era was Harold Lloyd. A comedian, his silents and many talkie films included an element of incredible danger, though as much of this as possible was careful illusion. Featured in the book for the film The Cat's Paw, his most famous film and the one that he will forever be remembered for is Safety Last (1923).

This is the film in which this famous scene appears. Harold dangles from the hands of a clock seemingly high on the side of a skyscraper over a busy street. In fact the clock and this bit of wall are on the near side of the street so he actually has the clock and wall between himself and the street here. The clever use of camera angles makes it appear that the danger is much greater. He was in fact over a flat roof - still high enough to break bones if he fell. Several years later he played a similar role, climbing up the side of skyscrapers in the film Feet First. He performed many of his stunts himself, these feats made all the more daring by the fact that in 1919 he had mistaken a small bomb for a prop on a movie set and blew off the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He had a special glove made to disguise this fact, though it is sometimes apparent that it is false when you know and look for it.

The Cat's Paw co-starred Una Merkel with Harold. She was currently making a name for herself as a dancer and comedienne in musicals such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers (both 1933) and she would win great acclaim in Destry Rides Again when she and star Marlene Dietrich personally acted out a catfight, demanding stunt money that the two gave to their stunt doubles who would otherwise have lost out on the payment.

Again, this isn't the best photograph of this actress, so here's a better one!

Ah... the lovely Fay Wray. Many people are surprised when they see her as a brunette but she wore a blonde wig for King Kong (1933), for which film she was told she would be starring with "the tallest darkest leading man in Hollywood"... She is included in the book for "The Affairs of Cellini in which she plays an artist's model who attracts the eye of a duke whilst the artist himself is pursued by the duchess. By heck, it's all go...

Oh, go on then... here's the classic image of Fay Wray. Kong didn't give her the luxury of a cushioned couch to lean on so this is a publicity still rather than a still from the film itself.

And here is my own Fay Wray connection. In this first issue of the American magazine Mondo Cult is Fay's last ever interview before she died in August 2004. On page 47 of 48 (actually taking up space on both pages 47 and 48!) is a review of my band Creeping Bentgrass's first album Keeping On...!

Franchot Tone stars in The World Moves On, an epic spanning 100 years from the close of the Napoleonic Wars and dealing with two families, English and American, with business interests in France and Prussia who swear that nothing, not even another Napoleon, could break up their business with its roots in all four countries. The film takes us then through the events of the next 100 years including World War One. Franchot is not necessarily a name familiar to everyone these days. He appeared in such films as Mutiny on The Bounty and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (both 1935) and has 111 credits on the Internet Movie Database. They include TV western series Bonanza, Wagon Train and The Virginian. He was married four times, his first wife being Joan Crawford.

Also starring in The World Moves On is actress Madeleine Carroll. She became the highest paid actress in the world by 1938 earning a quarter of a million dollars in that year. She is best remembered as Robert Donat's unwilling helper in Hitchcock's original version of The 39 Steps.

The gorgeous Loretta Young seen in The House of Rothschild. She made her first film in 1917 at the age of three. At the age of 17 she eloped to marry actor Grant Withers. She starred in two films with him. The second, Too Young To Marry came out a year later ...just as the marriage was annulled. Loretta is not done full justice by this photograph - so here's another two!

A fabulous shot of The Hispaniola from the film Treasure Island (1934)

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Grandma's 1920s Photo Album

Amongst all the many sentimental treasures discovered following the death of my uncle earlier this year was a photo album belonging to my grandmother. Labelled in her handwriting the inside front cover proclaimed "Annie Burke, 1927" and approximately half of the pages contained photographs most of them labelled (yahoo!) with dates and place names but sadly not with the names of the people shown... Take back some of that "yahoo"! The photos I have scanned so far date from between 1918 and 1927.

Some of the photos are very small. An inch along the longest edge. Most have been closely cropped with a pair of scissors. Some are sepia toned. Some are black and white - well... grey and lighter grey... Many show areas of damage from fogged light on the film, wear and tear, stains and cracks or fold marks. I've spent some time preparing them therefore and the following photographs and those of the follow-on articles (there will be a few...) have been repaired as best I can and are presented in a consistent sepia tone.

On the left is a 1920 photo of Annie Brierley, who in 1921 would marry John (Johnnie) Burke and then in time become my grandmother. Until this year I had never seen any of the photographs in this article. Apart from family members who I personally remember in their later age, I had never looked on some of my forebears that appear here. On the right is Annie's sister Elsie, who I would know as my great-aunt. This photo was taken in 1919.

Here are the girls again with their mother, Margaret (Maggie) Brierley who I would know as (Great) Grandma Brierley. The photo was taken in 1921 and both girls were to marry within a few months, so perhaps a last chance to be photographed as "Brierleys".

A different occasion but also from 1921, the girls are seen here with their father, who died before I was born. Until recently I had never seen a photo of him and I'm afraid I still don't know his name.

Two unknowns I'm afraid. They could be Maggie's husband's parents, or Johnnie's grandparents perhaps - the man has a slight resemblance. It's equally possible that they weren't even related to each other... The man's photograph is dated 1919 and the woman's photo a year earlier in 1918.

I have no idea who the man on the left is, but the other two are (centre) Percy Alston, my great-uncle, who I remember as a very jolly chap. The photo was taken on Morecambe beach in 1927, so by this time Percy was Elsie's husband. I've mentioned him on this blog before - he ran a photographic shop on Spotland Road in Rochdale through the 1950s and 60s and they retired to a bungalow in Overton, near Morecambe. On the right is my grandfather John Burke, for whom I was named. A pipe smoker, he kept the habit all his life, preferring flake tobacco which he would rub in the palm of his hand before loading his pipe with it.

I've already showed a photograph of Johnnie and Annie's wedding in an earlier article so here is the wedding of Percy and Elsie Alston. Of all the people on the photograph, I only know John, standing on the far left next to Percy and Elsie and Annie on the front row. Elsie has a new hat for her wedding, Annie is wearing the hat that she got married in, a few weeks previously. The girl sitting on the far left of the front row appears to be wearing Elsie's hat from that previous wedding! I would hazard a guess that the younger girl standing on the right is Percy's sister, but there must have been some family fall out at some point and I know nothing about and certainly never met or heard about any of his family at all.

Four years later, it's 1925 and there is a family holiday to Blackpool. Again I don't know, but the couple on the far left back and front I take to be man and wife (as they appear together on other photos) and perhaps they are Percy's parents? Next to him, second left on the back is Great-Grandad Brierley - he of the mystery first name and I think the lady in front of him is Maggie - strangely, she looks so like her mother it is hard sometimes to tell them apart but given the date, Maggie would be 45 so I think this is her. Percy Parasol is next - I'm sorry - I mean Percy with a parasol! I did say he was jolly... Johnnie brings the back row to a close. Making up the centre and right of the front row are Elsie in the middle and Annie on the far right flanking a young lady who could be the 18-19 year old version of the 14-15 year old girl seen at Percy and Elsie's wedding above.

Middleton Sands, Morecambe in 1927. This must have been the same trip that we saw these three gentlemen on Morecambe beach earlier. Both Johnnie and Percy had motorcycle combinations - as a motorbike and sidecar was known in those days. I think they were members of a club in fact. At one time my Grandad had had the much coveted Ariel Square Four, but it backfired once when he was kicking it over. The whiplash of the kick pedal broke his ankle and he sold it straight afterwards without riding it again. Johnnie is in the centre, Percy - somewhat blurred - on the left.

There are not many purely scenic photographs in the album, but I'll finish with this one. It was taken from the top of Blackpool Tower in 1920 and shows a Promenade Road virtually empty of cars. Even on the expanded version that I can look at I can identify few cars for definite. There is just one car or van behind a horse-drawn landau about to disappear off the bottom edge but all other larger vehicles could be cars or landaus. I remember when there were a few boats that used to take half-hour sea trips but there are at least 16 on the Promenade in this photo! Apart from the novelty of being on the water, a boat trip at Blackpool doesn't compare to most other places. There are no rocks, no headlands to go round - just a straight coast so that the bit between sky and sea got thinner and thinner for quarter of an hour and then thicker as you came back again... The other novelty to see, almost 100 years after this photograph was taken are the two rows of bathing machines lined up below the boats with a number already by the water's edge near the pier.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Buying Old Things Again...

The sun has come out today and we got a little giddy and drove off to Morecambe. It's a while since we visited GB Antiques at Lancaster and we called there for an hour's mooching as we passed through this morning.

I made just one purchase - an old annual or coffee table book, Meet The Film Stars 1934 1935. No doubt I paid many times what it cost when new in 1935, but in terms of today's money it wasn't that much really and it is packed with quality photographs including some that are so heavily hand coloured that they appear more painting than photograph!

Here's one of the better known stars, Jean Harlow, from its pages. The original blonde bombshell, I remember hearing an anecdote about a famous actor who kept making a hash of his takes during a love scene. "I was having so much fun kissing her, I didn't want it to stop..."

A young Joe E. Brown. If you are having trouble placing him, picture him as an older man, driving a speedboat and saying to Jack Lemmon, "I don't care... It doesn't matter..." at the end of Some Like It Hot.

We got back to the car to find the dashboard temperature reading 27 centigrade... It had been parked in the sun so it didn't take it long to come down quite a bit, but it was still a warm day. We parked on the Promenade near where the Pleasure Beach used to be and walked north to have lunch in The Grove cottage restaurant. Then we split up and I went to my favourite Morecambe shop - the second-hand book shop (The Old Pier Book Shop) opposite where the pier used to be. Normally the owner is playing The Moody Blues album, Seventh Sojourn but today a real blast from the past came at me as I opened the door...

"Give me some men who are stout-hearted men, who will fight, for the right they adore..."
"Blimey! That's not the Moody Blues!"
I said as I walked in.
"Oh, they'll be on later!" came the quick answer, "This is Nelson Eddy from the film New Moon". I hadn't heard that song since my parents took me to some long-forgotten seaside show in the 1960s that had John Hanson on the programme. It immediately set up an ear worm that is happily still playing...

I bought two books, a Tarzan book that I remember from my Dad's collection but which was thrown a long time ago probably before a house move. It will be nice to read it again. The other is the first instalment of a series aimed at young adults. I read the third instalment a while ago and loved it. This was a more modern book than the other two, but it cost me one pound - still a penny more than when it was new! Ha!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Gracie Fields' Visit to Rochdale, 1934

If there was one thing that brought Rochdale folk to agreement when I was knee high to a grasshopper it was that the sun's brightness originated not in the sky but instead shone out of Gracie Fields. So her visits back to her home town must have been spectacularly successful in drawing the attention of local papers, theatre-goers and even national news.

On one such visit in December 1934 this souvenir and theatre programme was published. "Our Gracie" was to appear at the Hippodrome Theatre, Rochdale from the third to the eighth of December with Gracie's performance on Wednesday 5 December being broadcast on the National Programme by the BBC. Well, naturally it would be the BBC because no one else was allowed to broadcast in those days...

The show was called "Hello! Here I am Again!" which could also pass for fair warning, should anyone not be intoxicated at the thought of Gracie's performances! During the days of her visit Gracie would be visiting a great number of charitable causes - she worked hard enough for one page of the souvenir to include a plea to be not pestered for souvenirs. "If I'd sent everyone who asked, a lock of my hair, I'd have been bald years ago!" she wrote.

Rochdale shop, The Fashion Corner bought advertising space to present their lingerie that "Goes to the tub with a smile"... Hope she remembers to take it off first...

Whittles Bakery in Littleborough (I do remember the name and that they made bread) but apparently they ceased to exist under that name in 1994. Bread in the 1930s and even the 1950s of my childhood had no preservatives in it and generally had to be eaten on the day it was bought. However the Purity Eight loaf was a Wonder of the World! Er... and surely the statue at Olympia that was one of the Seven Wonders was Zeus (head of the Greek gods) not Jupiter (a Roman god)? However I digress. In that time of a total lack of plastic bags, loaves of bread came wrapped in either tissue paper (if you bought them fresh) or wrapped in a single sheet of waxed paper, which would be kept and used to wrap up your sandwiches for work.

Ah, the programme... Unfortunately I could find nothing about Victor Hopwood, Boy Comedian and Lancashire Clog Walloper. I wonder what happened to all those clog wallopers out there... Billy Matchett (1889-1974) was a Liverpool comedian. He had come up via the Music Halls and later acted as Chairman of such shows. The Penslow Troupe seem to have vanished into obscurity but Jack Daly was an Irish comedian and singer with a "racy" style. Joe Adami the comedy juggler was featured a short while back in The History of Light Entertainment TV series hosted by Stephen Fry. Ventriloquist Raymond Smith was the first not to have to hold his doll. He stood behind a couch that the dummy lay full length on and he operated its lips with air blown from a rubber valve behind the couch. Finally Auntie & Co. the acrobatic cyclists seem to have ridden off into the sunset...

Meanwhile, up the road (that would be Drake Street) at the Rialto Cinema (oh how I remember that cinema!) Gracie's film from the previous year Sing As We Go was just a few weeks away. A tale of a factory closure and Gracie taking numerous jobs in Blackpool over the summer season is probably the best cinematic record of my current home town of Blackpool in the 1930s. The jokes may be dated but the Golden Mile and Pleasure Beach and the antics of the B&B landlady, landlord, staff and clients are spot on.

And of Gracie Fields herself... A Dame of the British Empire, she was born 9 January 1898, won a talent show in Rochdale and followed that success into music hall, variety, revue, broadcasting, records and films. She was married three times, first to Archie Pitt, a comedian and impressario who kicked off Gracie's career into a more successful level before moving his mistress, Annie Lipman into the marital home. (Annie actually wrote some of the lines to Gracie's famous song Sally - which must have galled her every time she sang it). She had surgery for cancer in 1939, went to Capri to recuperate and World War II broke out whilst she was there. She married Monty Banks in 1940, an Italian, who would have been interned had they moved back to the UK. Instead they went to America, but she returned to England several times for engagements and travelled into war zones entertaining the troops, but this marriage did damage her career at the time. Finally she married Boris Alperovici, a Romanian after she proposed to him in front of his family. She described him as the "love of my life".

The rear cover of the souvenir. I've missed out more pages than I've included I'm afraid. But nice to be able to mention Gracie Fields in this way. She was given the Freedom of the Borough of Rochdale in 1937. She set up a children's home and orphanage in Sussex in 1933 near to her home and when her first marriage ended in divorce she donated the house she had shared with her husband and his mistress to another orphanage. In 1978 she opened the Gracie Fields Theatre in Rochdale, which continues to stage entertainment today. Her last performance was at the age of 80 at the Royal Variety Performance in 1978 when she appeared un-billed during the finale to sing "Sally" one last time. She died in hospital after contracting pneumonia on 27 September 1979 and is buried in Capri.

Souvenir and Programme from the Geoffrey Burke Collection.

Monday, 3 July 2017

A Bit of Family History

In March 2017 we lost my Uncle Geoff at the age of 83. He had gone into hospital the week before Christmas and had spent a few weeks in February and March in a care home with a few more spells in hospital. It had almost been a long standing joke that although he was a keen photographer, we virtually never saw any of his photos. But I'm not sure we expected to find the wealth of early family photos that we came across, once we started to sort through his estate. Here are family members as I had never seen them before. Some of them I had never seen full stop. Some of them I didn't know their names until recently. Some, sadly, I still don't know quite who they are...

This is my Great-Grandma Margaret (Maggie) Brierley, aged 18 in 1898. In the May of that year she gave birth to my grandmother so I'm guessing this is either late in the year or very early and the hand is strategically placed... Incredibly a couple of months after I scanned this professionally produced card, I unwrapped the paper from around what I thought was a framed photo and found the original glass negative of this photo!

I had never seen a photograph of this man before. He is my Great-Grandad Brierley. I'm afraid I don't know his name even now. And I presume he is standing with either his own mother or Maggie's mother so she must be one of my great-great-grandmothers!

Coming down a generation, this could almost have come from those incredible photographs in the book Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. However, this is my grandmother, Annie Brierley who would later marry John Burke (after whom I was named) and her sister, my Great-Aunty Elsie.

By the age of 17, Annie was quite the beauty. This would be 1915, the year she met "Johnny".

Taken the previous year in 1914, this is John Burke, my grandfather. He never went away to war, being a trained engineer, his work was essential to the war effort back home and he had already lost two fingers from his right hand in an accident at work. Whilst no doubt a relief to John's family, the photo of him in the uniform with Royal Field Artillery badge probably suggests he would have wanted to go. The cap badge was carefully kept and stored away for us to find (below) along with RFA shoulder badges and a few other mementoes.

John's badges denoting him as being on War Service. Without these identifiers he would have been in danger of receiving the infamous white feathers from patriotic women, suggesting he was a coward. The badge on the left is from David Bridges engineering firm in Castleton, Rochdale. Dated 1915 it would that year be outlawed by the Government as they thought firms were trying to keep their trained workers by issuing their own badges. The Government brought out their own enamelled badges, but then realised just how many men were essential to the war effort in factories at home and very quickly issued the plain brass badge seen on the right. Individually numbered on the back, the identity of anyone wearing one could be quickly ascertained by the authorities.

William Thomas Burke was John's father, my great-grandfather. A man who I knew nothing about whatsoever until we found this and a few other bits of information. I previously had never seen a photo, nor knew his name. I still know next to nothing about him other than the name. A postcard he sent tells me that he had a dog named Lady and there we are - my only knowledge about him.

Mary Burke was John's sister. She hated the fact that people in Rochdale pronounced "Mary" to rhyme with "furry" and decided she would be known as "Cissie", by which name she was known all of her life.

Cissie never married, though according to my Mum, she had had a string of admirers and in this photograph from the 1920s/1930s she certainly did not lack for confidence! I only remember her as a grey-haired and very wrinkled old lady who smoked one cigarette after the other until eventually in her eighties, she succumbed to lung cancer. She remained slim all of her life and had a good sense of humour and lived in the house that her parents had lived in on the main road in Castleton, Rochdale. I remember she had an outside loo with a long drop over an open sewer far below which you could glimpse by shining a torch down. It terrified me as a kid...

The marriage of my grandparents, John Burke to Annie Brierley on 11 June 1921. From left to right: Percy Alston, my Great-Uncle by marriage as he was soon to marry Annie's sister, Elsie Brierley, who stands next to him. John has been posed carefully so that it might appear that his missing two fingers on his right hand are merely folded back to hold the glove; Annie, looking a little lost in the moment of it all; Jim Ivory - I know the name but nothing else; and finally Cissie, seated at the right. The wide and low brims of Annie and Cissie's hats have led the photographer to employ some trickery to make their eyes visible. I suspect the use of a masking device when printing allows the whites of their eyes to show and their eyes have then been drawn in at least partly with pencil. Unfortunately in Cissie's case this has given her a slight squint which she definitely did not have in real life!

Fifty years later in June 1971 this was taken on John and Annie's Golden Wedding celebration. Johnny had been let out of hospital especially for the occasion. He had been walking to Great-Grandma Brierley's one day in 1970, forgot where he was going in the middle of crossing the main road and just turned round to walk back home - straight into the path of a car. Horribly injured, whilst he survived, his mind wandered and this would be the only time he came out of hospital before he died in December 1973.

Back Row: Evelyne Burke, my Mum; Elsie Alston, Annie's sister; Florrie Woolfenden, Annie and Elsie's aunt, my great-great-aunt and sister to Maggie Brierley; Cissie Burke.
Front Row: Annie and John Burke, my grandparents; Maggie Brierley, Annie's mother and my great-grandmother. Two years later 1973 would be a terrible year for the family, bringing the deaths of Elsie Alston (Percy had died in 1971 not long before this gathering), Cissie Burke, Johnny Burke, and Maggie Brierley.

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