Quinn was born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution to Manuela “Nellie” (née Oaxaca) and Francisco “Frank” Quinn. Francisco Quinn was born in Mexico, to an Irish immigrant father from County Cork and a Mexican mother. Frank Quinn rode with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, then later moved to the East Los Angeles neighborhood of City Terrace and became an assistant cameraman at a movie studio. In Quinn’s autobiography, The Original Sin: A Self-portrait by Anthony Quinn, he denied being the son of an “Irish adventurer” and attributed that tale to Hollywood publicists.
When he was six years old, Quinn attended a Catholic church (even thinking he wanted to become a priest). At age eleven, however, he joined the Pentecostals in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (the Pentecostal followers of Aimee Semple McPherson). For a time he played in the church’s band and was an apprentice preacher with the renowned evangelist. “I have known most of the great actresses of my time, and not one of them could touch her,” Quinn once said of the spellbinding McPherson, whom he credited with inspiring Zorba’s gesture of the dramatically outstretched hand.
Quinn grew up first in El Paso, Texas, and later in East Los Angeles and in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, California. He attended Hammel Street Elementary School, Belvedere Junior High School, Polytechnic High School and finally Belmont High School in Los Angeles, with future baseball player and General Hospital star John Beradino, but left before graduating. Tucson High School in Arizona, many years later, awarded him an honorary high school diploma.
As a young man, Quinn boxed professionally to earn money, then studied art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright, at Wright’s Arizona residence and his Wisconsin studio, Taliesin. The two men became friends. When Quinn mentioned that he was drawn to acting, Wright encouraged him. Quinn said he had been offered $800 per week by a film studio and didn’t know what to do. Wright replied, “Take it, you’ll never make that much with me.” During a 1999 interview on the show Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, Quinn said the contract was for only $300 per week.
By 1947, he had appeared in more than fifty films and had played Indians, Mafia dons, Hawaiian chiefs, Filipino freedom-fighters, Chinese guerrillas, and Arab sheiks, but was still not a major star. He returned to the theater, playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway. In 1947, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
He appeared on Broadway to great acclaim in Becket, as King Henry II to Laurence Olivier‘s Thomas Becket in 1960. An erroneous story arose in later years that during the run Quinn and Olivier switched roles and Quinn played Becket to Olivier’s King. In fact, Quinn left the production for a film, never having played Becket, and director Peter Glenville suggested a road tour with Olivier as Henry. Olivier happily agreed and Arthur Kennedy took on the role of Becket for the tour and brief return to Broadway.
In 1971, after the success of a TV movie named The City, where Quinn played Mayor Thomas Jefferson Alcala, he starred in the television series, The Man and the City. Quinn’s subsequent television appearances were sporadic, including Jesus of Nazareth.
In 1983, he reprised his role as Zorba the Greek for 362 performances in a successful musical version, called Zorba, opposite fellow film co-star Lila Kedrova, reprising her role as Madame Hortense. Quinn performed in the musical both on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Quinn made an appearance at the John Gotti trial, according to John H. Davis, author of Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. He told reporters he wanted to play Paul Castellano, the boss of the Gambino family after Carlo Gambino. Gotti had Castellano murdered, becoming the boss of the Gambino family thereafter. Gotti was on trial concerning a variety of felony charges when Quinn visited the courtroom.
Although he tried to shake hands with Gotti, federal marshals prevented him from doing so, Davis says. The actor interpreted the testimony of Sammy (“The Bull”) Gravano, Gotti’s underboss, against Gotti as “a friend who betrays a friend.” He had not come to “judge” Gotti, Quinn insisted, but only because he wanted to portray Castellano, who inspired the actor because he had had a “thirty-year-old” mistress, which Quinn believed was “a beautiful thing.” He would later portray Gambino family underboss Aniello Dellacroce in the 1996 HBO film Gotti.
Quinn was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Dellacroce.
Art critic Donald Kuspit explains, “Examining Quinn’s many expressions of creativity together—his art, collecting, and acting—we can see that he was a creative genius.”
Early in life Quinn had an interest in painting and drawing. Throughout his teenage years he won various art competitions in California and focused his studies at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles on drafting. Later, Quinn studied briefly under Frank Lloyd Wright through the Taliesin Fellowship — an opportunity created by winning first prize in an architectural design contest. Through Wright’s recommendation, Quinn took acting lessons as a form of post-operative speech therapy, which led to an acting career that spanned over six decades.
Apart from art classes taken in Chicago during the 1950s, Quinn never attended art school; nonetheless, taking advantage of books, museums, and amassing a sizable collection, he managed to give himself an effective education in the language of modern art. By the early 1980s, his work had caught the eyes of various gallery owners and was exhibited internationally, in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Mexico City. His work is now represented in both public and private collections throughout the world.
He wrote two memoirs, The Original Sin (1972) and One Man Tango (1997), a number of scripts, and a series of unpublished stories currently in the collection of his archive.
Quinn’s first wife was the adopted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille, the actress Katherine DeMille; they wed in 1937. The couple had five children: Christopher (1939–1941), Christina (born December 1, 1941), Catalina (born November 21, 1942), Duncan (born August 4, 1945), and Valentina (born December 26, 1952). Their first child, Christopher, aged two, drowned in the lily pond of next-door neighbor W. C. Fields.
In 1965, Quinn and DeMille were divorced, because of his affair with Italian costume designer Jolanda Addolori, whom he married in 1966. They had three children: Francesco Quinn (March 22, 1963 – August 5, 2011), Danny Quinn (born April 16, 1964), and Lorenzo Quinn (born May 7, 1966).
In the 1970s, during his marriage to Addolori, Quinn also had two children with an event producer in Los Angeles named Friedel Dunbar: Sean Quinn (born February 7, 1973), a New Jersey real estate agent, and Alexander Anthony Quinn (born December 30, 1976).
By the 1990s, Quinn then had two children with his secretary, Katherine Benvin; daughter Antonia Patricia Rose Quinn (born July 23, 1993) and son Ryan Nicholas Quinn (born July 5, 1996). His marriage with Addolori finally ended in divorce in August 1997. He then married Benvin in December 1997. Quinn and Benvin remained married until his death, in June 2001.
Quinn spent his last years in Bristol, Rhode Island. He died of respiratory failure, pneumonia and throat cancer on June 3, 2001 in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 86.
His funeral was held in the First Baptist Church in America in College Hill, Providence, Rhode Island. Late in life, he had rejoined the Foursquare evangelical Christian community. He is buried in a family plot in Bristol, Rhode Island.
In his birth place Chihuahua, Mexico, there is a statue of Quinn doing his famous “Zorba the Greek” dance. A 70-foot high mural, entitled “Anthony Quinn” or more commonly “The Pope of Broadway” (1984) by Eloy Torrez, is at 259 W. Third Street, Los Angeles, California.
On January 5, 1982, the Belvedere County Public Library in East Los Angeles was renamed in honor of Anthony Quinn. The present library sits on the site of his family’s former home.
There is an Anthony Quinn Bay and Beach in Rhodes, Greece, just 2.7 miles (4.3 km) south of the village of Faliraki (aka Falirakion or Falirákion). The land was bought by Quinn during the filming of The Guns of Navarone in Rhodes; however, it was reclaimed by the Greek government in 1984 due to a change in property law.
Although still young, Novak withdrew from acting in 1966 at the peak of her career, and has only sporadically worked in films since. She appeared in The Mirror Crack’d (1980), and had a regular role on the primetime series Falcon Crest (1986–87). After a disappointing experience during the filming of Liebestraum (1991), she permanently retired from acting, stating she had no desire to return. Her contributions to world cinema have been honored with two Golden Globe Awards, an Honorary Golden Bear Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame among others. She works as a visual artist.
Novak was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 13, 1933. She is the daughter of Joseph and Blanche (née Kral) Novak. Both her parents were of Czech descent. Her father was a history teacher who took a job as a freight dispatcher on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad during the Depression, and her mother was a factory worker. She was raised Catholic.
She attended William Penn Elementary, Farragut High School, and Wright Junior College. She won two scholarships to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and during the summer break in her last semester of junior college, Novak went on a cross-country tour modelling for a refrigerator company at trade shows.
Beginnings and breakthrough (1953–58)
While stopping by Los Angeles, Novak was crowned “Miss Deepfreeze” by the refrigerator company. While there, she and two other models stood in line to be extras in two RKO films: The French Line (1954), starring Jane Russell and Son of Sinbad (filmed in 1953, not released until 1955). There she was discovered by an agent, who signed her to a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures. From the beginning of her career, she wanted to be an original and not another stereotype. Therefore, she fought with Columbia’s chief, Harry Cohn, over the changing of her name. He suggested the name “Kit Marlowe”, arguing, “Nobody’s gonna go see a girl with a Polack name!”, but she insisted on keeping her name, saying, “I’m Czech, but Polish, Czech, no matter, it’s my name!” The two sides eventually settled on the name “Kim Novak” as a compromise.
Columbia intended for Novak to be their successor to Rita Hayworth, their biggest star of the 1940s, whose career had declined; also, the studio was hopeful that Novak would bring them the same success 20th Century-Fox was having with Marilyn Monroe. Her first role for the studio was in the film noir Pushover (1954), in which she received third billing below Fred MacMurray and Philip Carey. She then co-starred in the romantic comedy Phffft (1954) as Janis, a Monroe-type character who finds Jack Lemmon‘s character, Robert Tracey, “real cute”. Both films were reasonably successful at the box office, and Novak received favorable reviews for her performances. In her third feature film, 5 Against the House (1955), a gritty crime drama, she received equal billing with Guy Madison. It was only a minor critical and box-office success.
Novak’s next project, The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), cast her as Marjorie Oelrichs, the wife of pianist Eddy Duchin, played by Tyrone Power. Because Power and she did not get along during filming, Novak nearly considered backing out of the production, but decided against it. At the time of its release, the film was a critical and box-office hit, with many suggesting that Novak’s advertisements for No-Cal diet soda contributed positively to the film’s success. Offered a choice for her next project, she selected the biopic Jeanne Eagels, in which she portrayed the immensely popular stage and silent-screen actress who was addicted to heroin. Co-starring Jeff Chandler, the film was a largely fictional account of Eagels’ life, and despite its success, Eagels’ family sued Columbia over the way Eagels had been depicted in the movie.
After appearing in a series of successful films, Novak became one of the biggest box-office draws of 1957 and 1958. Columbia then placed her in a film adaptation of Pal Joey in 1957, based on the 1940 novel and Broadway play, both written by John O’Hara. Playing Linda English, a naive showgirl, she again co-starred opposite Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth. Released in October, the film received favorable reviews; Variety called the film “strong, funny entertainment,” although Novak’s performance has generated a mixed reaction, partly because of noticeable lack of on-screen charisma. The movie was a box-office hit and has been considered one of Novak’s better performances.
Director Alfred Hitchcock was working on his next film, Vertigo, when his leading actress, Vera Miles, became pregnant and had to withdraw from the complex role of Judy Barton. Hitchcock approached Harry Cohn to offer Novak the female lead without even requesting a screen test. Though Cohn hated the script, he allowed Novak to read it because he considered Hitchcock to be a great director. Novak loved it, as she could identify with the character and agreed to take part in the film without meeting Hitchcock. At the same time, she was striking for more money from Columbia, and refused to show up for work on the Vertigo set to protest her salary of $1,250 a week. Novak hired new agents to represent her and demanded an adjustment in her contract. Cohn, who was paid $250,000 for Novak to do Vertigo, suspended her, but after a few weeks of negotiations, he relented and offered her a new contract worthy of a major star. She was now receiving $3,000 a week and explained to the press, “I don’t like to have anyone take advantage of me.”
Novak finally reported for work, and according to Hitchcock, she had “all sorts of preconceived notions” about her character, including what she would and would not wear. Before shooting started, she told the director she did not like the grey suit and black shoes she was slated to wear, thinking them too heavy and stiff for her character. Novak later recalled, “I didn’t think it would matter to him what kind of shoes I wore. I had never had a director who was particular about the costumes, the way they were designed, the specific colors. The two things he wanted the most were those shoes and that gray suit.” Indeed, Hitchcock explained to Novak that the visual aspect of the film was even more important to him than the story, and insisted on her wearing the suit and the shoes that he had been planning for several months. Novak learned to make it work for her, as she saw it a symbol of her character. Nonetheless, Hitchcock allowed Novak the freedom to develop the character herself. As she later recalled, “It excites me to work on dual personalities because I think I have many myself. And I think that I was able to use so much of me in that movie. At first I was feeling insecure because I kept saying, “Is this right? How do you want me to play this character?” And Hitchcock said, “I hired you and that’s who I want, what you bring to this role. But what I do expect from you is to stand where I want you to, wear what I want you to and speak in the rhythm that I want you to.” And he worked a long time with me to try to get the right rhythm.” The role took on a personal significance for her, as she felt she went through the same thing as her character when she arrived in Hollywood: From my point of view, when I first read those lines where she says, “I want you to love me for me,” and all the talking in that scene, I just identified with it so much because going to Hollywood as a young girl and suddenly finding they want to make you over totally, it’s such a total change and it was like I was always fighting to show some of myself, feeling that I wanted to be there as well. It was like they’d do my hair and go and redo a bunch of things. So I really identified with the fact of someone that was being made over with the resentment, with wanting to. Needing approval and wanting to be loved and willing, eventually, to go to any lengths to get that by changing her hair and all of these different things. And then when Judy appears, it’s another story and then when she has to go through that change. I really identified with the movie because it was saying, “Please, see who I am. Fall in love with me.”
Novak described Hitchcock as a gentleman, but found the experience of working with him to be strange. “I don’t know if he ever liked me. I never sat down with him for dinner or tea or anything, except one cast dinner, and I was late to that. It wasn’t my fault, but I think he thought I had delayed to make a star entrance, and he held that against me. During the shooting, he never really told me what he was thinking.” The director was actually frustrated to have her instead of Vera Miles, as Novak learned later. “Hitchcock didn’t like having me in his picture and he felt I was ruining it. It was only after the film was finished that I heard how much he thought I’d wrecked his picture. I felt I did a lot of good work in that movie, and I got some of the best notices of my career. But Hitchcock couldn’t blame himself, so he blamed me.” Novak got along well with her co-star, James Stewart, who supported her during filming. “He treated me so well. I learned a lot about acting from him. When we had emotional scenes, he had to prepare himself first by somehow going deep inside of himself, and you knew to leave him alone when he was like that. And when it was over, he wouldn’t just walk away. He allowed himself to slowly come out of it. He’d hold my hand and I would squeeze his hand so that we both had time to come down from the emotion.”
The film was poorly received at the time of its release in 1958, and failed at the box office, but has since been re-evaluated and is widely considered one of the director’s best works. In the 2012 British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound critics’ poll, Vertigo was voted as the best film of all time, displacing Orson Welles‘ Citizen Kane from the position it had occupied since 1962. Novak received mixed reviews for her performance, but she managed to surprise film critics. While Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, described her as “really quite amazing,”] the Variety review noted that she was “interesting under Hitchcock’s direction” and “nearer an actress than she was in either Pal Joey or Jeanne Eagles.” The consensus regarding her performance also changed with time. For example, film critic David Thomson thought it was “one of the major female performances in the cinema” and film director Martin Scorsese called it “extraordinary,” adding that Novak’s work was “so brave and emotionally immediate.” However, Novak was disappointed by her performance when she watched the film in 2013. “I was really disappointed. Both characters were exaggerated. They’ll always remember me in Vertigo, and I’m not that good in it, but I don’t blame me because there are a couple of scenes where I was wonderful.”
Career slowdown and other early ventures (1958–65)
In 1958, Novak again worked with Stewart in Richard Quine‘s Bell, Book and Candle, a comedy tale of modern-day witchcraft, that proved to be a box-office success. The following year, she starred opposite Fredric March in the acclaimed Middle of the Night (1959), which she has described as not only her favorite of the films she has been in, but also cites her performance in Middle of the Night as her best. In 1960, Novak starred opposite Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet. Richard Quine was the director, as well as her fiancé at the time. The studio planned to give them the house that was built as part of the story line during the filming as a wedding gift, but their wedding never occurred. Instead, during the last film that Quine and she made together in 1962, The Notorious Landlady with Jack Lemmon, she discovered and purchased her future home by the sea near Big Sur, California. It became her retreat and salvation after leaving Hollywood.
She made an independent five-picture deal with Martin Ransohoff and Filmways Pictures to co-produce, but it proved to be a bad choice due to clashes with personalities over scripts. Their first endeavor, Boys’ Night Out (1962), was unsuccessful. After her Hollywood house survived the big Bel Air fire of 1961, it was finally lost a few years later when it was swept away with most of her belongings in a mudslide in 1966. During the interim, she made W. Somerset Maugham‘s drama Of Human Bondage (1964) with Laurence Harvey in Ireland.
By the end of 1966, she was emotionally drained and no longer wanted to live the life of a Hollywood movie star, in the glare of the spotlight with the press criticizing her every move. When the mudslide took her Bel Air home and cost her entire life’s savings in bulldozer fees, she moved away from Hollywood to discover herself anew. From then on, acting became a job and was no longer a career of choice. Novak preferred to concentrate on her first love, the visual arts, often writing poetry to accompany her paintings, and even writing some song lyrics. Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio recorded some of her folk songs in the 1960s.
In 1968, she returned to the screen for The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), starring Peter Finch and Ernest Borgnine, and directed by Robert Aldrich. She played a dual role, portraying a person who becomes possessed by a look-alike film actress who gets made over by her obsessive-compulsive director lover. Robert Aldrich asked Novak to do a German accent for that role, but she felt it was unbelievable and over the top, so she did not want to do it, and he never insisted. At the premiere, Novak was totally shocked to hear her voice had been dubbed by a German actress in many scenes. Aldrich had never told her, nor had he given her the opportunity to dub it herself. She was extremely upset. The last film Novak made in the ’60s was The Great Bank Robbery (1969), opposite Zero Mostel, Clint Walker, and Claude Akins.
After spending nearly four years she described as a “self-imposed vacation”, Novak agreed to take part in two projects. She returned to the screen with a role in the horror anthology film Tales That Witness Madness (1973). Novak also starred as Las Vegas chorus girl Gloria Joyce, a character with whom she could identify, in the made-for-TV movie, The Third Girl From the Left (1973), with her real-life boyfriend at the time, Michael Brandon. Novak admitted a preference for TV films as she thought they were faster to shoot than features. She described scripts of that time as offensive, saying she disliked the unnecessary sex she found in most of them. In 1975, Novak took part in the ABC movie Satan’s Triangle because she liked the story which dealt in the supernatural. Novak had a small role in The White Buffalo (1977), a Western starring Charles Bronson. She ended the decade by playing Helga in Just a Gigolo (1979), opposite David Bowie.
Novak did not appear in any feature films during the remainder of the 1980s. Her acting credits during the decade included the ensemble television movie Malibu (1983) and the pilot episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985). Producers of the successful primetime soap opera Falcon Crest offered Novak a role in their series similar to her character in Vertigo. She appeared as the secretive “Kit Marlowe” in 19 episodes from 1986 to 1987. It was Novak’s idea to name her character Kit Marlowe, as it was the stage name that Columbia had wanted her to use when she started in the business. The former Marilyn Pauline Novak wryly described this turn of events as effectively being Cohn’s revenge on her from beyond the grave.
In 1989, Novak appeared along with James Stewart as a presenter at the 61st Academy Awards. Asked in the press room about a possible comeback, Novak said that if someone sent her a script she really wanted to do, with a part she felt she could not turn down, she would be happy to go back to work on the big or little screen. At the same time, Novak turned down plenty of offers for movies, as well as an opportunity to appear in a second season of Falcon Crest, to write her autobiography, tentatively titled Through My Eyes. Novak decided to re-establish contact with her agent and seek challenging roles after she realized she was not satisfied artistically. She said at the time, “I feel that I didn’t live up to what I should have done with it. In other words, I’m glad I made the move away from Hollywood: I don’t regret that. I know that was a major thing and a good thing. But by the same token, it was like unfinished business.” She returned to film with the leading role of Rose Sellers in The Children (1990) opposite Ben Kingsley. A British-German coproduction, the film premiered at the London Film Festival and received good reviews. Leonard Maltin praised the acting and felt Novak’s performance was “excellent”. However, following disputes between the director Tony Palmer and the distributor over editing and music, the film was pulled from release and never distributed.
Director Mike Figgis offered Novak the role of a terminally ill writer with a mysterious past in his thriller Liebestraum (1991) opposite Kevin Anderson and Bill Pullman. Novak loved the script and thought it was going to be an important picture. However, her collaboration with Figgis was tense and the two had conflicts from the beginning. Novak agreed to do the film under the impression she was going to play the whole character, but Figgis felt she was unable to play the flashback role the way he wanted, and hired actress Sarah Fearon for those scenes. The two clashed on the set, as their visions of the script differed and were in many ways diametrically opposed. Although she considered him to be a brilliant director, she felt the story was too personal for him, as it was about his own life, and Novak was playing his mother. She was also unhappy, as she felt he wanted her to act like a puppet. “He wanted what he thought Hitchcock had made over. But Hitchcock didn’t do that. Figgis didn’t know Hitchcock. So he treated me the way he thought Hitchcock must have, tried to manipulate me into doing exactly…I went crazy.” Novak later said she was hurt and distraught, as “It was such a painful thing for me because it took me right back to Harry Cohn and all that time. And back into saying, Look, for god’s sake, haven’t you heard it enough? We don’t want you to do anything. Just be ‘Kim Novak.’ That movie pained me more than any movie in the world could do.” Novak later told Movieline in 2005 she felt she had been “unprofessional” not to obey her director. “I know he thinks I’m a total bitch. That role was fabulous, full of depth. When I interpreted it the way I thought was evident in the incredible script, he said, ‘We’re not making a Kim Novak movie, just say the lines. If you continue to play the role this way, I’m going to cut you out of the movie,’ and he pretty much did that.”
Novak was supposed to do a comedy with the French director Claude Berri, also starring Peter Falk, and a remake of Bell, Book and Candle with Sharon Stone. Neither film was made, and following the difficult experience with Liebestraum, she has usually cited that experience as the reason for her decision to retire from the film industry. In 2004, she told the Associated Press:
I got so burned out on that picture that I wanted to leave the business, but then if you wait long enough you think, “Oh, I miss certain things.” The making of a movie is wonderful. What’s difficult is afterward when you have to go around and try to sell it. The actual filming, when you have a good script — which isn’t often— nothing beats it.
Since her retirement from acting, Novak has made only rare public appearances and turned down most offers she received. In 1996, Vertigo was given a restoration by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz and re-released to theaters. Novak loved their work so much, she agreed to make appearances at screenings of the film, something she originally refused when Universal asked her in 1984. She also took part in Obsessed with Vertigo, a documentary retracing the making and restoration of the film. In 1997, Novak received an Honorary Golden Bear Award for lifetime achievement at the 47th Berlin International Film Festival.
In 2003, Novak was presented with the Eastman Kodak Archives Award for her major contribution to film. Prior honorees include Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, James Stewart, Martin Scorsese, and Meryl Streep. During that time, Novak received several offers to do some major films and to appear on high-profile television shows. She made an appearance on Larry King Live in 2004, where she stated she would consider returning to the screen “if it was the right role.” In 2010, Novak was the recipient of a special tribute from the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, where her films were shown at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. She made a rare personal appearance with a Q&A onstage between showing of Pal Joey and Bell, Book and Candle, earning a two-minute long standing ovation upon her entrance.
In April 2012, Novak was honored at the TCM Classic Film Festival, where she introduced a screening of Vertigo. She joined in conversation with Robert Osborne for a Q&A session in which she discussed her career and personal life. The hour-long interview aired on TCM as Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival on March 6, 2013. Novak broke down in tears while discussing Liebestraum. As she nearly sobbed in front of the audience, Novak said, “I couldn’t do a movie after that. I’ve never done a movie after that. I just couldn’t do a movie after that.” The interview was an eye-opener for many fans who had wondered why Novak made so few films. Acknowledging that she never reached her potential as an actress, Novak revealed to the audience that she was bipolar and explained, “I was not diagnosed until much later. I go through more of the depression than the mania part. I don’t think I was ever cut out to have a Hollywood life,” Novak also commented. “Did I do the right thing, leaving? Did I walk out when I shouldn’t have? That’s when I get sad.” On the possibility of acting again, Novak said in another interview, with the fashion website LifeGoesStrong, “Who knows what the future holds? It would take an awful lot to lure me out there, but I would never say never.” Also during the TCM Festival, Novak was honored in a handprint and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. That same year, Novak received the San Francisco Cinematic Icon Award from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.
After years of seclusion, Novak started to make public appearances more frequently as she felt her body of work was being more appreciated. In 2013, she was recognized as the guest of honor by the Cannes Film Festival and attended the 2013 Festival, where she introduced a new restored version of Vertigo. She also took part in the festival’s closing ceremony as a presenter, earning a standing ovation upon her entrance. In 2014, she was a presenter at the 86th Academy Awards. That same year, she appeared at the TCM Classic Film Festival, where she unveiled her painting Vertigo / Vortex of Delusion commissioned by the TCM network as part of their 20th anniversary. Novak also introduced a screening of her 1958 movie, Bell Book and Candle, during the Festival. Also in 2014, Novak was invited by Cunard Line to be a speaker onboard during a New York-to-London cruise on RMS Queen Mary 2. She introduced screenings of Vertigo and Bell, Book and Candle, and did a Q&A session with Hollywood expert Sue Cameron, who is also her manager. That same year, Novak appeared with both of her art mentors, Harley Brown and Richard McKinley, for a solo show of her paintings at the Butler Institute of American Art.
In 2018, Novak joined in conversation with Larry King for a Q&A session at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, in celebration of Vertigo’s 60th Anniversary. That same year, she was the recipient of a special tribute from the Castro Theatre, A Tribute to Living Legend Kim Novak.
Novak was honored in a handprint & footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 2012.
In 1955, Novak won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female. Two years later she won another Golden Globe for World Favorite Female Actress. On February 8, 1960, Novak was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6332 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1995, Novak was ranked 92nd by Empire Magazine on a list of the 100 sexiest stars in film history. Novak was honored with a Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement at the 47th Berlin International Film Festival in 1997 and was presented with the Eastman Kodak Archives Award for her major contribution to film in 2003. In 2012, Novak was honored in a handprint and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. That same year, she received the S.F. Cinematic Icon Award from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for her screen contributions in San Francisco with Pal Joey and Vertigo. Her contribution to world cinema was also rewarded with the Kristián Award she was given at the 22nd Febiofest international film festival in 2015.
Novak influenced many actors, as well as fashion designers with the roles she played. Naomi Watts stated that her character interpretation in Mulholland Drive (2001) was influenced by the look and performances of Novak in Vertigo. Renée Zellweger said that Novak was “pure magic” and dressed up as her character from Vertigo for a photo shoot for March 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. Nicole Kidman wrote Novak a letter saying she was “an inspiration to me and to women everywhere. Your cinematic body of work speaks for yourself, but so does the other side of Kim Novak – the free spirit who left Hollywood to live atop the hills of Big Sur. Kim Novak the painter and llama farmer. You are an icon whose screen presence is unmatched, and yet you’ve lived your life with dignity and authenticity, and the courage to follow your heart wherever it takes you.”
In 2005, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen named his first It BagThe Novak, saying, “I’m drawn to Kim Novak in the same way that Hitchcock was. She had an air of uptightness you wouldn’t want to cross.”
Novak’s first marriage was to English actor Richard Johnson. It lasted 13 months, from March 15, 1965 to April 23, 1966. The two remained friends afterwards.
After her engagement to director Richard Quine, much was made of her relationships with Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ramfis Trujillo, the adopted son of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. She dated Frank Sinatra, Richard Beymer, and actor Michael Brandon. A BBC documentary claimed that Columbia Studios chief, Harry Cohn, to end her relationship with a black man, had mobsters threaten Sammy Davis, Jr., with blinding or having his legs broken if he did not marry a black woman within 48 hours.
In the 1960s, Novak left Hollywood for Big Sur, where she raised horses and painted, making an occasional film. In 1974, she met her present husband, equine veterinarian Robert Malloy, when he made a house call after one of her Arabian mares suffered colic. They have been together ever since, and married on March 12, 1976. As a result of her marriage, she has two adult stepchildren. The couple built a log home along the Williamson River near Chiloquin.
In 1997, Novak bought a 43-acre ranch in Sams Valley, Oregon, which they made into their home. Novak took classes in painting with pastels from artists Harley Brown and Richard McKinley. In July 2000, their home burned to the ground, and she lost all her art and the only draft of the autobiography she had been working on for 10 years.
In 2006, Novak was injured in a horse-riding accident. She suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, and nerve damage, but made a full recovery within a year.
In October 2010, her manager, Sue Cameron, reported that Novak had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cameron also noted that Novak is “undergoing treatment” and “her doctors say she is in fantastic physical shape and should recover very well.” Upon completion of treatment, Novak was declared cancer-free.
In 2014, after Novak’s rare public appearance at the 86th Academy Awards, the media and social commentary indicated she was hardly recognizable, which resulted in speculation that she had undertaken substantial cosmetic surgery. Novak was devastated by the criticism — “It really did throw me into a tailspin and it hit me hard,” and wrote an open letter in which she stood up to all of her Oscar-night “bullies.” Novak admitted that she “had fat injections in my face” as she felt “they seemed far less invasive than a face-lift,” but later regretted it, “So why did I do it? I trusted somebody doing what I thought they knew how to do best. I should have known better, but what do you do? We do some stupid things in our lives.”
Novak continues her creative endeavors today as a photographer, poet, and visual artist who paints in watercolor, oil, and pastel. Her paintings are impressionistic and surrealistic.
Edward G. Robinson (born Emanuel Goldenberg; December 12, 1893 – January 26, 1973) was a Romanian-American actor of stage and screen during Hollywood’s Golden Age. He appeared in 40 Broadway plays and more than 100 films during a 50-year career and is best remembered for his tough-guy roles as gangsters in such films as Little Caesar and Key Largo.
During the 1930s and 1940s, he was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism, which were first growing in strength in Europe and led up to World War II. His activism included contributing over $250,000 to more than 850 organizations involved in war relief, along with cultural, educational and religious groups. During the 1950s, he was called to testify at the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare, but was cleared of any Communist involvement.
Robinson was born as Emanuel Goldenberg to a Yiddish-speaking Romanian Jewish family in Bucharest, the son of Sarah (née Guttman) and Morris Goldenberg, a builder.
After one of his brothers was attacked by an anti-semitic mob, the family decided to immigrate to the United States. Robinson arrived in New York City on February 21, 1904. “At Ellis Island I was born again,” he wrote. “Life for me began when I was 10 years old.” He grew up on the Lower East Side, had his Bar Mitzvah at First Roumanian-American Congregation, and attended Townsend Harris High School and then the City College of New York, planning to become a criminal attorney. An interest in acting and performing in front of people led to him winning an American Academy of Dramatic Artsscholarship, after which he changed his name to Edward G. Robinson (the G. standing for his original surname).
He served in the United States Navy during World War I, but was never sent overseas.
Robinson began his acting career in the Yiddish Theater District in 1913 and made his Broadway debut in 1915. He made his film debut in Arms and the Man (1916).
In 1923 made his named debut as E. G. Robinson in the silent film, The Bright Shawl.
One of many actors who saw his career flourish in the new sound film era rather than falter, he made only three films prior to 1930, but left his stage career that year and made 14 films between 1930 and 1932.
Robinson appeared for director John Huston as gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo (1948), the last of five films he made with Humphrey Bogart and the only one in which Bogart did not play a supporting role.
After a subsequent short absence from the screen, Robinson’s film career—augmented by an increasing number of television roles—restarted for good in 1958/59, when he was second-billed after Frank Sinatra in the 1959 release A Hole in the Head.
Robinson was originally cast in the role of Dr. Zaius in Planet Of The Apes (1968), and even went as far to filming a screen test with Charlton Heston. However, Robinson dropped out from the project before production began citing heart problems and concerns over the long hours under the heavy ape make up. He was replaced by Maurice Evans.
Heston, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, presented Robinson with its annual award in 1969, “in recognition of his pioneering work in organizing the union, his service during World War II, and his ‘outstanding achievement in fostering the finest ideals of the acting profession.'”
Robinson was never nominated for an Academy Award, but in 1973 he was awarded an honorary Oscar in recognition that he had “achieved greatness as a player, a patron of the arts and a dedicated citizen … in sum, a Renaissance man.” He had been notified of the honor, but died two months before the award ceremony, so the award was accepted by his widow, Jane Robinson.
Robinson married his first wife, stage actress Gladys Lloyd, born Gladys Lloyd Cassell, in 1927; she was the former wife of Ralph L. Vestervelt and the daughter of Clement C. Cassell, an architect, sculptor and artist. The couple had one son, Edward G. Robinson, Jr. (a.k.a. Manny Robinson, 1933–1974), as well as a daughter from Gladys Robinson’s first marriage. In 1956 he was divorced from his wife. In 1958 he married Jane Bodenheimer, a dress designer professionally known as Jane Arden. Thereafter he also maintained a home in Palm Springs, California.
In noticeable contrast to many of his onscreen characters, Robinson was a sensitive, softly-spoken and cultured man, who spoke seven languages. Remaining a liberal Democrat despite his difficulties with HUAC, he attended the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, California. He was a passionate art collector, eventually building up a significant private collection. In 1956, however, he was forced to sell his collection to pay for his divorce settlement with Gladys Robinson; his finances had also suffered due to underemployment in the early 1950s.
Robinson died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles of bladder cancer on January 26, 1973. Services were held at Temple Israel in Los Angeles where Charlton Heston delivered the eulogy. Over 1,500 friends of Robinson attended, with another crowd of 500 people outside. His body was then flown to New York where it was entombed in a crypt in the family mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn. Among his pallbearers were Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis, Mervyn Leroy, George Burns, Sam Jaffe, and Frank Sinatra.
In October 2000, Robinson’s image was imprinted on a U.S. postage stamp, its sixth in its Legends of Hollywood series.
During the 1930s, Robinson was an outspoken public critic of fascism and Nazism, and donated more than $250,000 to 850 political and charitable groups between 1939 and 1949. He was host to the Committee of 56 who gathered at his home on December 9, 1938, signing a “Declaration of Democratic Independence” which called for a boycott of all German-made products.
Although he tried to do so, he was unable to enlist in the military at the outbreak of World War II because of his age; instead, the Office of War Information appointed him as a Special Representative based in London. From there, taking advantage of his multilingual skills, he delivered radio addresses in over six languages to countries in Europe which had fallen under Nazi domination. His talent as a radio speaker in the U.S. had previously been recognized by the American Legion, which had given him an award for his “outstanding contribution to Americanism through his stirring patriotic appeals.” Robinson was also active with the Hollywood Democratic Committee, serving on its executive board in 1944, during which time he became an “enthusiastic” campaigner for Roosevelt’s reelection that year.
In early July 1944, less than a month after the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces, Robinson traveled to the front in France to entertain the troops, becoming the first movie star to go there for the USO. He personally donated $100,000 ($1,500,000 in 2015 dollars) to the USO. After returning to the U.S. he continued his active involvement with the war effort by going to shipyards and defense plants to inspire workers, in addition to appearing at rallies to help sell war bonds. After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, while not a supporter of Communism, he appeared at Soviet war relief rallies to give moral aid to America’s new ally, which he said could join “together in their hatred of Hitlerism.”
After the war ended, Robinson spoke publicly in support of democratic rights for all Americans, especially in demanding equality for Blacks in the workplace. He endorsed the Fair Employment Practices Commission‘s call to end workplace discrimination. Black leaders praised him as “one of the great friends of the Negro and a great advocator of Democracy.”
During the years Robinson spoke against fascism and Nazism, although not a supporter of Communism, he failed to criticize the Soviet Union which he saw as an ally against Hitler. However, notes film historian Steven J. Ross, “activists who attacked Hitler without simultaneously attacking Stalin were vilified by conservative critics as either Communists, Communist dupes, or, at best, naive liberal dupes.” In addition, Robinson learned that 11 of the more than the 850 charities and groups he had helped over the previous decade were listed by the FBI as Communist front organizations. As a result, he was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1950 and 1952 and was threatened with blacklisting.
As appears in the full House of Un-American activities Committee transcript for April 30th 1952, Robinson “named names” of Communist sympathizers (Albert Maltz, Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Frank Tuttle, and Sidney Buchman) and repudiated some of the organizations he had belonged to in the 1930s and 1940s. He came to realize, “I was duped and used.” His own name was cleared, but in the aftermath his career noticeably suffered, as he was offered smaller roles and those less frequently. In October 1952 he wrote an article titled “How the Reds made a Sucker Out of Me,” that was published in the American Legion Magazine. The chair of the Committee, Francis E. Walter, told Robinson at the end of his testimonies, that the Committee “never had any evidence presented to indicate that you were anything more than a very choice sucker.”
Robinson has been the inspiration for a number of animated television characters, usually caricatures of his most distinctive ‘snarling gangster’ guise. An early version of the gangster character Rocky, featured in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Racketeer Rabbit, shared his likeness. This version of the character also appears briefly in Justice League, in the episode “Comfort and Joy,” as an alien with Robinson’s face and non-human body, who hovers past the screen as a background character.
In the 1989 animated series C.O.P.S. the mastermind villain Brandon “Big Boss” Babel’s voice sounded just like Edward G. Robinson when he would talk to his gangsters. Then years later voice actor Hank Azaria has noted that the voice of Simpsons character police chief Clancy Wiggum is an impression of Robinson. This has been explicitly joked about in episodes of the show. In “The Day the Violence Died” (1996), a character states that Chief Wiggum is clearly based on Robinson. In 2008’s “Treehouse of Horror XIX,” Wiggum and Robinson’s ghost each accuse the other of being rip-offs. Another caricature of Robinson appears in two episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season two, in the person of Lt. Tan Divo.
Harold Brent Wallis was an American film producer.
Wallis is best remembered for producing Casablanca (1942), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and True Grit (1969), along with many other major films for Warner Bros. featuring such film stars as Humphrey Bogart, Betty Davis, and Errol Flynn.
Life and Career
Aaron Blum Wolowicz was born October 19, 1898 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Eva (née Blum) and Jacob Wolowicz, Ashkenazi Jews from Suwalki region of Poland who changed their surname to Wallis.
His family moved in 1922 to Los Angeles, California, where he found work as part of the publicity department at Warner Bros in 1923. Within a few years, Wallis became involved in the production end of the business and would eventually become head of production at Warner. In a career that spanned more than 50 years, he was involved with the production of more than 400 feature-length movies.
In addition to the films cited above, Wallis produced such hits as Dark Victory, The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York, and Now, Voyager. During the 16th annual Academy Awards, when the award for Best Picture was announced for Casablanca, Wallis got up to accept, but studio head Jack L. Warner rushed up to the stage “with a broad, flashing smile and a look of great self-satisfaction,” Wallis later recalled.
I couldn’t believe it was happening. Casablanca had been my creation; Jack had absolutely nothing to do with it. As the audience gasped, I tried to get out of the row of seats and into the aisle, but the entire Warner family sat blocking me. I had no alternative but to sit down again, humiliated and furious…. Almost forty years later, I still haven’t recovered from the shock.
This incident would lead Wallis to leave Warner Bros. in April. He started to work as an independent producer, enjoying considerable success both commercially and critically. The first screenwriters he hired for his new enterprise were Ayn Rand and Lillian Hellman. Among his financial hits were the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies, and several of Elvis Presley’s movies.
Wallis produced True Grit, for which John Wayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor of 1969, and its sequel. After moving to Universal Pictures, he produced Mary, Queen of Scots (starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson), and Anne of the Thousand Days (starring Richard Burton and Canadian-born actress Geneviéve Bujold). He received 16 Academy Awards producer nominations for Best Picture, winning for Casablanca in 1943.
For his consistently high quality of motion picture production, Wallis was twice honored with the Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He was also nominated for seven
Golden Globe awards, twice winning awards for Best Picture. In 1975, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures.
In 1980, Wallis published his autobiography, Starmaker, co- written with Charles Higham.
In the 1930s, Wallis used his investment dollars to develop residential real estate in Sherman Oaks, California. He named one of the streets after himself using his nickname “Hal” and his nick-middle name “Brent.” Halbrent Avenue, Sherman Oaks, CA is the street, and most of the original homes are still standing today. It’s very close to Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards near the infamous Sherman Oaks Galleria used extensively in
the 1982 movie romp, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Wallis was married twice, to actress Louise Fazenda from 1927 until her death in 1962, and to actress Martha Hyer from 1966 until his death in 1986. He had one son with Fazenda,
Wallis died in 1986 from complications with diabetes in Rancho Mirage, California, at the age of 88. News of his passing was not released until after his private memorial service was
completed. U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan (who had worked for Wallis in On the Santa Fe Trail and This Is The Army) sent condolences to the family. Wallis is interred in crypt at the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
O’Brien was born Eamon Joseph O’Brien in Brooklyn, New York, of English and Irish stock, the seventh and last child of Agnes and James O’Brien. When he was four years old, O’Brien’s father died.
He put on magic shows for children in his neighborhood with coaching from a neighbor, Harry Houdini. He performed under the title, “Neirbo the Great” (“neirbo” being “O’Brien” spelled backwards). An aunt who taught high school English and speech took him to the theatre from an early age and he developed an interest in acting. O’Brien began acting in plays at school.
“It was simply the best training in the world for a young actor, singer or dancer,” said O’Brien. “What these teachers encouraged above all was getting your tools ready – your body, your voice, your speech.”
In addition to studying at the Playhouse, O’Brien took classes with the Columbia Laboratory Players group, which emphasized training in Shakespeare.
O’Brien began working in summer stock in Yonkers. He made his first Broadway appearance at age 21 in Daughters of Atreus.
He played a grave digger in Hamlet, went on tour with Parnell, then appeared in Maxwell Anderson’s The Star Wagon, starring Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith.
O’Brien’s theatre work attracted the attention of Pandro Berman at RKO, who offered him a role as the romantic lead in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).
RKO offered O’Brien a long term contract. His roles included A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob (1941) and Parachute Battalion (1941). The latter starred Nancy Kelly who O’Brien would later marry, although the union lasted less than a year.
During World War II, O’Brien served in the U.S. Army Air Force and appeared in the Air Forces’ Broadway playWinged Victory by Moss Hart. He appeared alongside Red Buttons, Karl Malden, Kevin McCarthy, Gary Merrill, Barry Nelson and Martin Ritt. When the play was filmed in 1944, O’Brien reprised his stage performance, co-starring with Judy Holliday. He toured in the production for two years, appearing alongside a young Mario Lanza.
He was then cast as the undercover cop in White Heat (1949) opposite James Cagney.
“He [Cagney] said he had only one rule,” O’Brien noted. “He would tap his heart and he would say, “Play it from here, kid.” He always did and I believe it’s the best rule for any performer. He could play a scene 90 ways and never repeat himself. He did this to keep himself fresh. I try to do this whenever possible.”
In 1949, 3,147 members of the Young Women’s League of America, a national charitable organization of spinsters, voted that O’Brien had more “male magnetism” than any other man in America today. “All women adore ruggedness,” said organization president Shirley Connolly. “Edmund O’Brien’s magnetic appearance and personality most fully stir women’s imaginative impulses. We’re all agreed that he has more male magnetism than any of the 60,000,000 men in the United States today. (Runners up were Ezio Pinza, William O’Dwyer and Doak Walker.)
Following an appearance in Backfire (1950) his contract with Warner Bros terminated.
O’Brien then made one of his most famous movies, D.O.A. (1950 film), where he plays a man investigating his own murder. He followed this with 711 Ocean Drive (1950). However, his career then hit a slump. According to TCM, “In the early ’50s, O’Brien started struggling with his weight, which could change significantly between films. He had no problems if that relegated him to character roles, but for a few years, it was hard to come by anything really first rate.”
“The funny thing about Hollywood is that they are interested in having you do one thing and do it well and do it ever after,” said O’Brien. “That’s the sad thing about being a leading man – while the rewards may be great in fame and finances, it becomes monotonous for an actor. I think that’s why some of the people who are continually playing themselves are not happy.”
In 1958 he directed and starred in a TV drama written by his brother, “The Town That Slept With the Lights On,” about two Lancaster murders that so frightened the community that residents began sleeping with their lights on.
From 1959–60 O’Brien portrayed the title role in the syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight, the story of a New York City actor-turned-private detective. The producers refused to cast him unless he shed at least 50 pounds, so he went on a crash vegetarian diet and quit drinking.
“I seldom get very far away from crime,” he recalled. I’ve found it pays . . . I tried non-crime films like Another Part of the Forest . . . good picture, good cast, but no good at the box office . . . But you just put a gun in your hands and run through the streets during cops and robbers and you’re all set.”
O’Brien also had his own production company, O’Brien-Frazen.
O’Brien walked off the set of The Last Voyage in protest at safety issues during the shoot. He later came back and found out he had been written out of the film. He was cast as a reporter in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but had a heart attack during filming and was replaced by Arthur Kennedy.
O’Brien recovered to direct his first feature, Man Trap (1961).
O’Brien had a choice role in Seven Days in May (1964) which saw him receive a second Oscar nomination.
“I’ve never made any kind of personality success,” he admitted in a 1963 interview. “People never say ‘that’s an Eddie O’Brien part.’ They say, ‘That’s a part Eddie O’Brien can play.’
“I’d like to be able to say something important,” he added. “To say something to people about their relationship with each other. If it touches just one guy, helps illustrate some points of view about living, then you’ve accomplished something.”
He had a role in another TV series, The Long Hot Summer but left after 12 episodes due to creative differences. He was replaced by Dan O’Herlihy.
O’Brien worked steadily throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, his memory problems were beginning to take their toll. A heart attack meant he had to drop out of The Glass Bottom Boat.
“It would be awfully hard to do a series again,” he said in a 1971 interview. “I wouldn’t go for an hour show again. They don’t have much of a chance against the movies.”
In 1971 he was hospitalized with a “slight pulmonary condition.”
In 1957 O’Brien recorded a spoken-word album of The Red Badge of Courage (Caedmon TC 1040). Billboard said, “Edmond O’Brien brings intensity in the narrative portions and successfully impersonates the varied characters in dialog.”
O’Brien was divorced from actresses Nancy Kelly 1941–1942 and Olga San Juan. San Juan was the mother of his three children, including television producer Bridget O’Brien and actors Maria O’Brien and Brendan O’Brien.
Final Years and Death
O’Brien fell ill with Alzheimer’s Disease. In a 1983 interview, his daughter Maria remembers seeing her father in a straitjacket at a Veterans’ Hospital.
“He was screaming. He was violent. I remember noticing how thin he’d gotten. We didn’t know, because for years he’d been sleeping with all his clothes on. We saw him a little later and he was walking around like all the other lost souls there.”
He died May 9, 1985, at St. Erne’s Sanitorium in Inglewood, California, of Alzheimer’s disease. He was survived by his wife and three children.
Walk of Fame
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Edmond O’Brien has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1725 Vine Street, and a second star at 6523 Hollywood Blvd. for his contribution to the television industry. Both were dedicated on February 8, 1960.
Busey began his show business career as a drummer in The Rubber Band. He appears on several Leon Russell recordings, credited as playing drums under the names “Teddy Jack Eddy” and “Sprunk,” a character he created when he was a cast member of a local television comedy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting on station KTUL (which starred fellow Tulsan Gailard Sartain as “Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi”). For his skits on Uncanny Film Festival, Busey drew on his American Hero, belligerent, know-it-all character. When he told Gailard Sartain his character needed a name, Sartain replied, “Take three: Teddy, Jack ,and Eddy.”
He played in a band called Carp, which released one album on Epic Records in 1969. Busey continued to play several small roles in both film and television during the 1970s. In 1975, as the character “Harvey Daley,” he was the last person killed on the series Gunsmoke (in the third-to-last episode, No. 633 – “The Busters”).
In 1976, he was hired by Barbra Streisand and her producer-boyfriend Jon Peters to play Bobby Ritchie, road manager to Kris Kristofferson‘s character in the remake film A Star is Born. On the DVD commentary of the film, Streisand says Busey was great and that she had seen him on a TV series and thought he had the right qualities to play the role.
In a series of 2010 YouTube advertisements for Vitamin Water, Busey appeared as Norman Tugwater, a lawyer who defends professional athletes’ entitlements to a cut from Fantasy Football team owners.
In 2014, he became a celebrity spokesperson for Amazon Fire TV. That August, he appeared in, and became the first American winner of the fourteenth series of the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother.
On September 1, 2015, it was announced that he would be competing on the 21st season of Dancing with the Stars. He was paired with professional dancer Anna Trebunskaya. Busey and Trebunskaya made it to Week 4 of competition but were then eliminated and finished in 10th place.
In 1971, Busey’s wife Judy Helkenberg gave birth to their son, William Jacob “Jake” Busey. Busey and Helkenberg divorced when Jake was 19 years old. Busey has a daughter named Alectra from a previous relationship. In February 2010, Busey’s fiancee Steffanie Sampson gave birth to their son, Luke Sampson Busey.
On December 4, 1988, Busey was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in which he was not wearing a helmet. His skull was fractured, and doctors feared he suffered permanent brain damage. During the filming of the second season of Celebrity Rehab in 2008, Busey was referred to psychiatrist Dr. Charles Sophy. Sophy suspected that Busey’s brain injury has had a greater effect on him than realized. He described it as essentially weakening his mental “filters” and causing him to speak and act impulsively. Sophy recommended Busey take valproic acid (Depakote), with which Busey agreed.
In 1996, Busey publicly announced that he was a Christian, saying: “I am proud to tell Hollywood I am a Christian. For the first time I am now free to be myself.” This return to Christianity occurred as a result of his motorcycle accident, as well as a 1995 cocaine overdose.
In 2011, Busey supported Donald Trump‘s 2012 presidential bid saying, “For the American people, vote for Donald Trump come election night.” In 2015, he again endorsed Trump for president.
Hackett was born in Brooklyn, New York to Anna (née Geller) and Philip Hacker, an upholsterer and part-time inventor. He grew up on 54th and 14th Ave in Borough Park, Brooklyn, across from Public School 103 (now a yeshiva). He graduated from New Utrecht High School in 1942.
While still a student, he began performing in nightclubs in the CatskillsBorscht Belt resorts as “Butch Hacker.” He appeared first at the Golden Hotel in Hurleyville, New York, and he claimed he did not get a single laugh. He enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, and served for three years in an anti-aircraft battery.
Hackett’s first job after the war was at the Pink Elephant, a Brooklyn club. It was here he changed his name from Leonard Hacker to Buddy Hackett. He made appearances in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and continued to perform in the Catskills. He acted on Broadway, in Lunatics and Lovers, where Max Liebman saw him and put him in two television specials.
Hackett’s movie career began in 1950 with a 10-minute “World of Sports” reel for Columbia Pictures called King of the Pins. The film demonstrated championship bowling techniques, with expert Joe Wilman demonstrating the right way and Hackett (in pantomime) exemplifying the wrong way. Hackett would not return to movies until 1953, after one of his nightclub routines attracted attention. With a rubber band around his head to slant his eyes, Hackett’s “The Chinese Waiter” lampooned the heavy dialect, frustration, and communication problems encountered by a busy waiter in a Chinese restaurant: “No, we no have sprit-pea soup … We gotta wonton, we got eh-roll … No orda for her, juss orda for you!” The routine was such a hit, Hackett made a recording of it, and was hired to reprise it in the Universal-International musical Walking My Baby Back Home (1953), in which he was third-billed under Donald O’Connor and Janet Leigh.
Hackett was an emergency replacement for the similarly built Lou Costello in 1954. Abbott and Costello were set to make a feature-length comedy Fireman, Save My Child, featuring Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Several scenes had been shot with stunt doubles when Lou Costello was forced to withdraw due to illness. Universal-International salvaged the project by hiring Hugh O’Brian and Hackett to take over the Abbott and Costello roles, using already shot footage of the comedy duo in some long shots; Jones and his band became the main attraction.
During this time, he also appeared as a panelist and mystery guest on CBS-TV’s What’s My Line? and filled in as emcee for the game show Treasure Hunt. He made fifteen guest appearances on NBC-TV’s The Perry Como Show between 1955 and 1961.
Hackett starred as the title character on NBC-TV’s Stanley, a 1956-57 situation comedy which ran for 19 weeks on Monday evenings at 8:30 pm EST. The half hour series also featured a young Carol Burnett and the voice of Paul Lynde. The Max Liebman produced program aired live before a studio audience and was one of the last sitcoms from New York to do so. Stanley revolved around the adventures of the titular character (Hackett) as the operator of a newsstand in a posh New York City hotel. On September 30, 1960, he appeared as himself in an episode of NBC’s short-lived crime drama Dan Raven, starring Skip Homeier, set on the Sunset Strip of West Hollywood.
He appeared many times on the game show Hollywood Squares in the late 1960s. In one episode, Hackett was asked which was the country with the highest ratio of doctors to populace; he answered Israel, or in his words, “The country with the most Jews.” Despite the audience roaring with laughter (and Hackett’s own belief that the actual answer was Sweden), the answer turned out to be correct. Hackett’s regular guest shots on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show in the early 1960s were rewarded with a coveted appearance on his final program on March 29, 1962.
Hackett continued to appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show until Carson left the series in 1992.
In 1978, Hackett surprised many with his dramatic performance as Lou Costello in the television movie Bud and Lou opposite Harvey Korman as Bud Abbott. The film told the story of Abbott and Costello, and Hackett’s portrayal was widely praised. He and Korman did a memorable rendition of the team’s famous “Who’s on First?” routine. In 1979, Hackett was the voice of the groundhog “Pardon Me Pete,”,and the narrator of the Rankin/Bass Christmas special Jack Frost (1979). He starred in the 1980 film Hey Babe!. That same year, he hosted a syndicated revival of the 1950-61 Groucho Marx quiz show You Bet Your Life which lasted for one year. Throughout the 1970s Hackett appeared regularly in TV ads for Tuscan Dairy popsicles and yogurt. But his most famous television campaign was for Lay’spotato chips (“Nobody can eat just one!”) which ran from 1968–71; Hackett had succeeded Bert Lahr as Lay’s spokesman. He guest-starred in the Space Rangers episode, “To Be Or Not To Be,” as has-been comedian Lenny Hacker, a parody of his stage persona. The character’s name was Hackett’s own real name.
In April 1998, Hackett guest starred in an episode of LateLine called “Buddy Hackett.” The episode focused on a news broadcast paying tribute to Hackett following his death, only to discover that the report of his death was a mistake. Robert Reich and Dick Gephardt also appeared in the episode, paying tribute to Hackett.
In his final years, Hackett had a recurring spot called “Tuesdays with Buddy” on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn in which he shared stories of his career and delivered some of his comedic routines.
On June 12, 1955, Hackett married Sherry Cohen. They lived in Leonia, New Jersey in the late 1950s. In August 1958, they bought the house previously owned by deceased crime boss Albert Anastasia in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After renovations, they moved in and lived there through most of the 1960s. In 2003, Hackett and his wife established the Singita Animal Sanctuary in California’s San Fernando Valley.
He was an avid firearms collector and owned a large collection that he sold off in his later years due to declining health.
Hackett died on June 30, 2003 at his beach house in Malibu, California at the age of 78. His son, comedian Sandy Hackett, said his father had been suffering from diabetes for several years and suffered a stroke nearly a week before his death which may have contributed to his demise. Two days later, on July 2, 2003, he was cremated and his ashes were given to family and friends.
I thought it might be fun to switch the focus of these monthly blogposts, from actors to films — the sorts of movies the main character in my Mike Montego series of novels might have watched as a kid or young man. They quite literally “don’t make ’em like this” anymore!
On the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Southwestern Colorado, Kemp meets a grizzled old prospector, Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), and offers him twenty dollars to help out. Tate assumes that Kemp is a sheriff and Kemp does nothing to disillusion him.
They trap someone on top of a rocky hill who Kemp is convinced must be his wanted man. Rockslides force a retreat. Looking for a way around the hill, Kemp and Tate meet up with a Union soldier, Lieutenant Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker). He has been discharged from the 6th Cavalry at Fort Ellis in Bozeman and is heading east. Tate questions why Anderson isn’t on the Bozeman Trail. Anderson’s story is that there are some “bad tempered Indians” whose chief’s daughter fell in with a handsome young army lieutenant. Kemp has a chance to see Anderson’s discharge order in which he is described as “morally unstable,” and given a dishonorable discharge.
Tate tells Anderson that Kemp is a sheriff. With the aid of Anderson, who scales a sheer cliff face, Vandergroat is caught, along with his companion, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh), the daughter of Vandergroat’s friend, Frank Patch, who was shot dead trying to rob a bank in Abilene.
Vandergroat sets Tate and Anderson straight on two facts: that Kemp is no lawman, and that a reward is offered to bring him in— $5000, dead or alive. Tate and Anderson want their shares, to aid Kemp in getting Vandergroat back to Kansas. Lina is convinced that her father’s friend is innocent.
On the trail to Abilene, Vandergroat attempts to turn his captors against each other, using greed as his weapon. He also encourages Lina to use her beauty to divide Kemp and Anderson. When scouting a way through a mountain pass, Kemp and Tate spot a dozen Blackfeet, a normally friendly tribe, far from their normal hunting grounds. They tell the others and Anderson confesses that the Indians are after him. Kemp tells Anderson to hightail it out of there to avoid being captured by the Blackfeet. Anderson thinks Kemp just wants a bigger share of the reward money. He rides ahead, and from his position hidden behind a fallen tree trunk, with his rifle he elects to pick off a chief of the Blackfeet, at the moment Kemp’s group have confronted the Indians and are about to engage them in talk.
During the ensuing battle, Kemp saves Lina from the Blackfeet and she, in turn, helps him when he is shot in the leg. Later, Kemp passes out on the trail and awakes from a delirious nightmare. He thinks Lina is Mary, his ex-fiancée. Vandergroat tells the others that Mary sold Kemp’s ranch, which he left in her safekeeping, while he was serving in the army during the Civil War, and then went off with another man. Vandergroat further reveals that Kemp is determined to buy his ranch back, and that it can’t happen if he splits the reward money with Anderson and Tate.
Lina’s feelings of loyalty to her father’s friend, combined with an attraction to Kemp, confuses her. She has never seen Vandergroat hurt anyone unless it was in a fair fight, but after he loosens Kemp’s saddle cinch and tries to push him off a high mountain pass, Lina’s sympathies for Kemp grow.
Taking refuge from a storm in a cave, Vandergroat manipulates Lina into distracting Kemp. She tells the rancher of her dream to go to California, where no one knows her and she can make a fresh start. He tells her of his wish to repurchase his ranch. They kiss and this gives Ben a chance to escape. Kemp catches Vandergroat, and Anderson suggests that since the reward is for a “dead or alive” criminal, they should just kill the troublemaker. Tate stops Anderson but, caught up in the anger of the moment and hurt by what he sees as Lina’s treachery, Kemp challenges Vandergroat to a shoot out. The wanted man declines to take part.
Next day, the group comes to a high-running river. They argue about whether to cross or go downstream. Anderson grabs a rope and throws it around Vandergroat’s neck and says he’ll drag him across the river. A fight ensues between Kemp and Anderson, as Vandergroat watches with malicious enjoyment. Kemp finally manages to kick Anderson unconscious. While Kemp and Anderson recover from the fight and Lina searches for firewood, Vandergroat convinces Tate to sneak off with him to find a gold mine, the whereabouts of which Vandergroat has been tempting the old man with. When they depart during the night, he convinces Tate to take Lina along.
Vandergroat and Lina ride double; Tate follows, holding a rifle on them. Ben suddenly yells, “Snake!” and in the confusion grabs Tate’s rifle from him and kills him. He fires two more shots in order to lure Kemp and Anderson to a spot where he intends to kill them. Lina finally sees Vandergroat for what he is.
Kemp and Anderson discover Tate’s body where Vandergroat has positioned it for an ambush from the high cliff face. Preparing to shoot Kemp, Vandergroat is caught off guard when Lina grabs the rifle barrel, saving Kemp’s life. While Anderson exchanges gunfire with Vandergroat, Kemp removes one of his spurs to aid in climbing up the back of the cliff to outflank Vandergroat. He uses the spur as a combination climbing tool and makeshift piton.
Vandergroat, hearing Kemp, gets the drop on the rancher. However, before he can pull the trigger, Kemp throws his spur into the killer’s left cheek. As Ben reels from the pain of the spur, he is shot by Anderson and his body falls into the nearby river, becoming entangled in the roots of a tree. Anderson lassos a branch on the other side of the river and crosses using the rope. He then wraps it around Ben’s body but is crushed by a large tree stump barrelling down the river.
Kemp grabs the rope and drags Vandergroat’s body across the river and, in a rage, vows that he will take him back to reclaim his land. Lina pleads with him not to take blood money for bringing Vandergroat in. She says she will go with him, no matter what, marry him, and live with him on the ranch. Kemp realizes what he is doing and his love for Lina makes him stop. He begins digging a grave to bury Vandergroat and they decide to make for California, leaving their pasts behind.
The Naked Spur was the third of five Western collaborations between James Stewart and Anthony Mann and also, third of the eight collaborations they did overall. Two previous Westerns included Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend of the River (1952). The film is notable for having only five actors.
Millard Mitchell, who played Jesse Tate, a grizzled old prospector, died at fifty years of age from lung cancer shortly after this picture. This was his next-to-last movie, followed by Here Come the Girls (released October 1953), starring Bob Hope.
The film was filmed on location in Durango and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, and Lone Pine, California. According to writer and historian Frederic B. Wildfang, during filming, Stewart dedicated a monument in town, marking the area as the “Hollywood of the Rockies.” Production started in late May and ended in June 1952.
The film premiered in the first day of February 1953. That same year, two other films directed by Mann and starring Stewart were also released: Thunder Bay and The Glenn Miller Story.
According to MGM records the film earned $2,423,000 in the US and Canada and $1,427,000 overseas, resulting in a profit to the studio of $1,081,000. This success ensured three more Stewart-Mann collaborations, including two more westerns. Screenwriters Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom were nominated for the 1953 Best ScreenplayAcademy Award. In the years since its release, the film has achieved continued success, gaining more critical acclaim now than upon first release. Leonard Maltin has lauded The Naked Spur as “one of the best westerns ever made.”
In 1997, The Naked Spur was added to the United States National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Martin Sam Milner (December 28, 1931 – September 6, 2015) was an American film, stage, radio and television actor. Milner is best known for his performances in two popular television series: Route 66, which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964, and Adam-12, which aired on NBC from 1968 to 1975.
Milner was born on December 28, 1931, to film distributor Sam Gordon Milner and Paramount Theater circuit dancer Mildred (née Martin) in Detroit, Michigan. The family left Detroit when he was a young child and moved frequently before settling in Seattle, Washington, by the time he was nine. There he became involved in acting, first in school, and then in a children’s theater group at the Cornish Playhouse.
Milner attended the University of Southern California where he studied theater. He dropped out after a year in the fall of 1950 to concentrate on acting. He made his first television appearance in 1950 as a guest star in episode 28 titled “Pay Dirt” on The Lone Ranger. That same year, he began a recurring role as “Drexel Potter” on the television sitcom The Stu Erwin Show.
In 1952, Milner began a two-year stint in the United States Army. He was assigned to Special Services at Fort Ord on California’s Monterey Bay Peninsula, where he directed training films. He also emceed and performed in skits in a touring unit show to entertain the soldiers. Milner was encouraged by fellow soldier David Janssen to pursue an acting career when his time in the Army ended. He also served at Ft Ord at the same time as future actors Clint Eastwood and Richard Long. While in the Army, Milner continued working for Jack Webb, playing “Officer Bill Lockwood” (briefly the partner of “Sgt. Friday”) and other characters on the Dragnet radio series on weekends. He also appeared on six episodes of Webb’s Dragnet television series between 1952 and 1955.
In 1960, Milner won the role of Tod Stiles in the CBS television series, Route 66, from 1960 to 1964. Created by Stirling Silliphant, Route 66 is essentially about two regular, but distinctly different young men in a car touring the United States.
After the sudden death of his father left him unexpectedly penniless, Tod traveled across the United States in a Chevrolet Corvette, taking a variety of odd jobs along the way and getting involved in other people’s problems. Tod’s traveling partner on his escapades was his friend Buz Murdock, a former employee of his father’s played by George Maharis. During the series’ third season, Milner got a new co-star as Glenn Corbett was brought in to replace Maharis. Tod’s new traveling partner was Lincoln “Linc” Case, an Army veteran who had a dark past, and Corbett remained in the role for the remaining season and a half.
Route 66 was a different sort of television program, as the travels of Tod and his traveling partners were shot on location. Thus, Milner spent nearly four years traveling the country for the series, sometimes taking his wife and children along.
Milner and Webb had a long-established working relationship by the time it came to cast Adam-12. Milner appeared in numerous episodes of both the radio and television versions of the seminal Jack Webb series Dragnet. Milner had also worked with Webb in the 1950 film Halls of Montezuma and the 1955 film Pete Kelly’s Blues. This led to the role for which Milner is best known.
In 1968, Milner returned to television as seven-year LAPD veteran uniform patrol Officer Peter Joseph “Pete” Malloy in the Jack Webb-produced police drama, Adam-12. Kent McCord played his partner, rookie Officer James A. “Jim” Reed. The popular NBC series ran from 1968 to 1975. Like Webb’s Dragnet, it was based on real Los Angeles Police Department procedures and cases. It was hailed for its realistic, positive portrayal of ordinary police officers.
Milner was Webb’s hands-down choice for “cop behind the wheel” Pete Malloy, in part because his relative youth and prior acting credits and because of his on-camera driving experience from his days on Route 66.
Milner also has the distinction of having portrayed the victim in the premiere episode of Columbo titled “Murder by the Book.” In 1990, Milner re-teamed with Kent McCord, his co-star from Adam-12, in the cable TV-movie Nashville Beat (1990), originally shown on the now-defunct The Nashville Network. The story, partly written by Kent McCord, had McCord as an LAPD detective who teams up with his old partner, Milner, in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1992, he guest starred on five episodes of ABC’s Life Goes On. After retiring from acting, Milner co-hosted a radio show about fishing called “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” on San Diego-area sports station XETRA AM 690 (now XEWW).
In May 1956, Milner met singer and actress Judith Bess Jones at a Hollywood dinner party. They were married on February 23, 1957, in Waukegan, Illinois. They had four children together: Amy, Molly, Stuart and Andrew.
In February 2003, Milner’s eldest daughter Amy, who appeared in an episode of Adam 12, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She died in December 2004.
On September 6, 2015, Milner died of heart failure at his home in Carlsbad, California, at the age of 83. His memorial service was held by Law Enforcement and community members in Oceanside, California six days later.
Mario Lanza (born Alfred Arnold Cocozza; January 31, 1921 – October 7, 1959) was an American tenor, actor and Hollywood film star of the late 1940s and the 1950s.
Lanza began studying to be a professional singer at the age of 16. After appearing at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947, Lanza signed a seven-year film contract with Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who saw his performance and was impressed by his singing. Prior to this, the adult Lanza had sung only two performances of an opera. The following year (1948), however, he would sing the role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in New Orleans.
His film debut was in That Midnight Kiss (1949) with Kathryn Grayson and Ethel Barrymore. The following year, in The Toast of New Orleans, his featured popular song “Be My Love” became his first million-selling hit. In 1951, he played the role of Enrico Caruso (1873–1921), his tenor idol, in the biopic, The Great Caruso, which produced another million-seller with “The Loveliest Night of the Year” (a song which used the melody of Sobre las Olas). The Great Caruso was the top-grossing film that year.
The title song of his next film, Because You’re Mine, was his final million-selling hit song. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. After recording the soundtrack for his next film, The Student Prince, he embarked upon a protracted battle with Studio Head Dore Schary arising from artistic differences with director Curtis Bernhardt, and was eventually dismissed by MGM.
Lanza was known to be “rebellious, tough, and ambitious,” and during most of his film career, he suffered from addictions to overeating and alcohol that had a serious effect on his health and his relationships with directors, producers and, occasionally, other cast members. Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper wrote, “his smile, which was as big as his voice, was matched with the habits of a tiger cub, impossible to housebreak.” She adds that he was the “last of the great romantic performers.” He made three more films before dying of an apparent pulmonary embolism at the age of 38. At the time of his death in 1959 he was still “the most famous tenor in the world.” Author Eleonora Kimmel concludes that Lanza “blazed like a meteor whose light lasts a brief moment in time.”
Born Alfred Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was exposed to classical singing at an early age by his Abruzzese-Molisan Italian parents. His mother, Maria Lanza, was from Tocco da Casauria a province of Pescara in the region of Abruzzo. His father, Antonio Cocozza, was from the town of Filignano a province of Isernia in the region of Molise. By age 16, his vocal talent had become apparent. Starting out in local operatic productions in Philadelphia for the YMCA Opera Company while still in his teens, he later came to the attention of longtime (1924–49) principal Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky. In 1942, Koussevitzky provided young Cocozza with a full student scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. Reportedly, Koussevitzky would later tell him, “Yours is a voice such as is heard once in a hundred years.”
His opera debut, as Fenton in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (in English), came at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood on August 7, 1942, after a period of study with conductors Boris Goldovsky and Leonard Bernstein. This was when Cocozza adopted the stage name Mario Lanza, for its similarity to his mother’s maiden name, Maria Lanza.
His performances at Tanglewood won him critical acclaim, with Noel Straus of The New York Times hailing the 21-year-old tenor as having “few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power”. Herbert Graf subsequently wrote in Opera News (October 5, 1942), “A real find of the season was Mario Lanza […] He would have no difficulty one day being asked to join the Metropolitan Opera.” Lanza sang Nicolai’s Fenton twice at Tanglewood, in addition to appearing there in a one-off presentation of Act III of Puccini’s La Bohème with the noted Mexican soprano Irma González, baritone James Pease and mezzo-soprano Laura Castellano. Music critic Jay C. Rosenfeld wrote in The New York Times of August 9, 1942, “Irma González as Mimì and Mario Lanza as Rodolfo were conspicuous by the beauty of their voices and the vividness of their characterizations.” In an interview shortly before her own death in 2008, González recalled that Lanza was “very correct, likeable, with a powerful and beautiful voice.”
Lanza as Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello
His budding operatic career was interrupted by World War II, when he was assigned to Special Services in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He appeared in the wartime shows On the Beam and Winged Victory. He also appeared in the film version of the latter (albeit as an unrecognizable member of the chorus). He resumed his singing career with a concert in Atlantic City with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in September 1945 under Peter Herman Adler, subsequently his mentor. The following month, he replaced tenor Jan Peerce on the live CBS radio program Great Moments in Music on which he made six appearances in four months, singing extracts from various operas and other works.
He studied with Enrico Rosati for fifteen months, and then embarked on an 86-concert tour of the United States, Canada and Mexico between July 1947 and May 1948 with bass George London and soprano Frances Yeend. Reviewing his second appearance at Chicago’s Grant Park in July 1947 in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, Claudia Cassidy praised Lanza’s “superbly natural tenor” and observed that “though a multitude of fine points evade him, he possesses the things almost impossible to learn. He knows the accent that makes a lyric line reach its audience, and he knows why opera is music drama.”
In April 1948, Lanza sang two performances as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for the New Orleans Opera Association conducted by Walter Herbert with stage director Armando Agnini. Reviewing the opening-night performance in the St. Louis News (April 9, 1948), Laurence Oden wrote, “Mario Lanza performed … Lieutenant Pinkerton with considerable verve and dash. Rarely have we seen a more superbly romantic leading tenor. His exceptionally beautiful voice helps immeasurably.” Following the success of these performances, he was invited to return to New Orleans in 1949 as Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata. But, as biographer Armando Cesari wrote, Lanza by 1949 “was already deeply engulfed in the Hollywood machinery and consequently never learned [that key mid-Verdi tenor] role.”
At the time of his death, Lanza was preparing to return to the operatic stage. Conductor Peter Herman Adler, with whom Lanza had previously worked both in concert and on the soundtrack of The Great Caruso, visited the tenor in Rome during the summer of 1959 and later recalled that, “[Lanza] was working two hours a day with an operatic coach, and intended to go back to opera, his only true love.” Adler promised the tenor “all possible help” in his “planning for his operatic future.” In the October 14, 1959, edition of Variety, it was reported that Lanza had planned to make his return to opera in the role of Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci during the Rome Opera’s 1960–61 season. This was subsequently confirmed by Riccardo Vitale, Artistic Director of the Rome Opera. Variety also noted that preparations had been underway at the time of Lanza’s death for him to participate in recording a series of complete operas for RCA Italiana.
A concert at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1947 had brought Lanza to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who promptly signed Lanza to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The contract required him to commit to the studio for six months, and at first Lanza believed he would be able to combine his film career with his operatic and concert one. In May 1949, he made his first commercial recordings with RCA Victor. His rendition of the aria “Che gelida manina” (from La Bohème) from that session was subsequently awarded the prize of Operatic Recording of the Year by the (United States) National Record Critics Association.
The Toast of New Orleans
Lanza’s first two starring films, That Midnight Kiss and The Toast of New Orleans, both opposite top-billed Kathryn Grayson, were commercial successes, and in 1950 his recording of “Be My Love” from the latter became the first of three million-selling singles for the young singer, earning him enormous fame in the process. While at MGM, Lanza worked closely with the Academy Award-winning conductor, composer, and arranger Johnny Green.
In a 1977 interview with Lanza biographer Armando Cesari, Green recalled that the tenor was insecure about the manner in which he had become successful, and was keenly aware of the fact that he had become a Hollywood star before first having established himself on the operatic stage.
“Had [Lanza] been already a leading tenor, if not the leading tenor at the Metropolitan Opera House], and come to Hollywood in between seasons to make a picture, he would have had [the security of having] the Met as his home,” Green remarked. According to Green, Lanza possessed “the voice of the next Caruso. [Lanza] had an unusual, very unusual quality…a tenor with a baritone color in the middle and lower registers, and a great feeling for the making of music. A great musicality. I found it fascinating, musically, to work with [him].”
The Great Caruso
In 1951, Lanza portrayed Enrico Caruso in The Great Caruso, which proved a success. At the same time, Lanza’s increasing popularity exposed him to intense criticism by some music critics, including those who had praised his work years earlier. His performance earned him compliments from the subject’s son, Enrico Caruso Jr., a tenor in his own right. Shortly before his own death in 1987, Enrico Jr. wrote in Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family (posthumously published by Amadeus in 1990) that:
“I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography… Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct.”
The Student Prince
In 1952, Lanza was dismissed by MGM after he had pre-recorded the songs for The Student Prince. The reason most frequently cited in the tabloid press at the time was that his recurring weight problem had made it impossible for him to fit into the costumes of the Prince. However, as his biographers Cesari and Mannering have established, Lanza was not overweight at the beginning of the production, and it was, in fact, a disagreement with director Curtis Bernhardt over Lanza’s singing of one of the songs in the film that led to Lanza walking off the set. MGM refused to replace Bernhardt, and the film was subsequently made with English actor Edmund Purdom, who was dubbed to Lanza’s recorded voice.
Depressed by his dismissal, and with his self-confidence severely undermined, Lanza became a virtual recluse for more than a year, frequently seeking refuge in alcoholic binges. During this period, Lanza also came very close to bankruptcy as a result of poor investment decisions by his former manager, and his lavish spending habits left him owing about $250,000 in back taxes to the IRS.
Lanza returned to an active film career in 1955 in Serenade, released by Warner Bros. However the film was not as successful as his previous films, despite its strong musical content, including arias from Der Rosenkavalier, Fedora, L’arlesiana, and Otello, as well as the Act III duet from Otello with soprano Licia Albanese. Ms. Albanese said of Lanza in 1980: I had heard all sorts of stories about Mario [Lanza]. That his voice was too small for the stage, that he couldn’t learn a score, that he couldn’t sustain a full opera; in fact, that he couldn’t even sing a full aria, that his recordings were made by splicing together various portions of an aria. None of it is true! He had the most beautiful lirico spinto voice. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, powerful voice. I should know because I sang with so many tenors. He had everything that one needs. The voice, the temperament, perfect diction. . . . Vocally he was very secure. All he needed was coaching. Everything was so easy for him. He was fantastic!
He then moved to Rome, Italy in May 1957, where he worked on the film Seven Hills of Rome, and returned to live performing in November of that year, singing for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium. From January to April 1958, Lanza gave a concert tour of the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. He gave a total of 22 concerts on this tour, receiving mostly positive reviews for his singing. Despite a number of cancellations, which resulted from his failing health during this period, Lanza continued to receive offers for operatic appearances, concerts, and films.
In September 1958, he made a number of operatic recordings at the Rome Opera House for the soundtrack of what would turn out to be his final film, For the First Time. It was then that he came to the attention of that opera house’s artistic director, Riccardo Vitale, who promptly offered the tenor carte blanche in his choice of operatic roles. Lanza also received offers to sing in any opera of his choosing from the San Carlo in Naples. At the same time, however, his health continued to decline, with the tenor suffering from a variety of ailments, including phlebitis and acute high blood pressure. His old habits of overeating and crash dieting, coupled with binge drinking, compounded his problems.
In April 1959, Lanza reportedly suffered a minor heart attack followed in August by double pneumonia. On September 25, 1959, he entered Rome’s Valle Giulia clinic for the purpose of losing weight for an upcoming film. While in the clinic, he underwent a controversial weight loss program colloquially known as “the twilight sleep treatment,” which required its patients to be kept immobile and sedated for prolonged periods. On October 7, a day before his scheduled discharge, he died at the age of 38. No autopsy was performed. He was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Maria Caniglia, Franco Fabrizi and Enzo Fiermonte attended the funeral. Frank Sinatra sent his condolences by telegram.
Lanza was the first RCA Victor Red Seal artist to win a gold disc and the first artist to sell 2 1/2 million albums. Lanza was referred to by some sources as the “new Caruso” after his “instant success” in Hollywood films, while MGM hoped he would become the movie studio’s “singing Clark Gable” for his good looks and powerful voice.
In 1994, outstanding tenor José Carreras paid tribute to Lanza during a worldwide concert tour, saying of him, “If I’m an opera singer, it’s thanks to Mario Lanza.” His equally outstanding colleague Plácido Domingo echoed these comments in a 2009 CBS interview with, “Lanza’s passion and the way his voice sounds are what made me sing opera. I actually owe my love for opera … to a kid from Philadelphia.”
Even today “the magnitude of his contribution to popular music is still hotly debated,” and because he appeared on the operatic stage only twice, many critics feel that he needed to have had more “operatic quality time” in major theaters before he could be considered a star of that art form. His films, especially The Great Caruso, influenced numerous future opera stars, including Joseph Calleja, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. According to opera historian Clyde McCants, “Of all the Hollywood singers who performed operatic music… the one who made the greatest impact was Mario Lanza.” Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper concluded “there had never been anyone like Mario, and I doubt whether we shall ever see his like again.”
In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. Mario Lanza has been awarded two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a Star for Recording at 1751 Vine Street, and a Star at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard for Motion Pictures.
Portrayal on stage
In October 2007, Charles Messina directed the big budget musical Be My Love: The Mario Lanza Story, written by Richard Vetere, about Lanza’s life, which was produced by Sonny Grosso and Phil Ramone, and which premiered at The Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Greenvale, New York.