Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forgotten Star - Lawrence Gray

This is an expanded version of the post made on my Swedish blog in 2008 to celebrate Lawrence Gray’s 110th birthday.

Lawrence Gray was one of the more prominent figures in the early talkies. It’s actually hard to miss him if you like me really like the 1929-30 films in particular. During the 1929-30 season he appeared in no fewer than eleven pictures, most of them from MGM.

He was born July 28th 1898 in San Francisco. In his early twenties he went to Hollywood, drawn to the budding movie industry as so many youngsters at that time. He quickly got a job as an attributor at Paramount. Larry was a very handsome young man with an easy going attitude which soon led to a place in front of the camera instead of among the props.

He made his debut in The Dressmaker From Paris 1925, starring Olive Borden. Almost by accident young Larry became a rising movie star. He got bigger and bigger parts in what was to become important high budget pictures. His third film was The Coast Of Folly (1925) starring Gloria Swanson. In Stage Struck (1925) Larry became Gloria's leading man, her love interest Orme, a “flap-jack-flipper”. Later that same year he did The American Venus with Esther Ralston and Louise Brooks. Both of these films had lavish color sequences.

In 1926 Lawrence Gray was cast alongside Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow in the comedy classic Kid Boots. For some reason he had a hard time getting the really big parts. Larry was bought over to Fox, where he made seven films during 1927-28. Also in 1927 he made his debut at MGM in After Midnight in which he shared top billing with Norma Shearer, the Queen of MGM. 1928 was a good year for Larry but a real mess studio-wise, working for several studios including Fox and Tiffany Stahl. He made Oh Kay with Colleen Moore for First National, The Patsy with Marion Davies for Cosmopolitan Pictures, then back to Fox for two films and finally ending up at MGM. In the spring of 1929 Larry made his last silent movie, Trent’s Last Case, starring Raymond Griffith and Marceline Day.

In august 1929 it was time for Larry to make his talkie debut in Marianne together with Marion Davies. In my opinion Marianne was an odd choice for a first talkie. Marion Davies really goes out on a limb and speaks every line with a very thick homegrown French accent. Keep in mind that almost every movie star at the time was absolutely frightened to be deemed not ”having a voice”. Larry, who had shown much skill as a comic actor during the silent days is perfectly cast as the American doughboy who falls for the French local girl, Marion/Marianne. he also got plenty of opportunities to show his finely tuned singing voice. The funny business was handled by two of MGM's newest acquisitions, Yiddish dialect comedian Benny Rubin and ukulele-playing Cliff Edwards.

Let’s take a look at some scenes from Larry's talkies. We start with Marianne, where Larry gets to sing for the first time on the screen. First out is Blondy, written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed:

We move on to one of the best scenes in the film and a song that later became a classic tune. Here it is, for the first time, Just You, Just Me, written by Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages, performed by Lawrence Gray and Marion Davies. Note the accent!

Larry’s next film was It’s A Great Life, the consolation price The Duncan sisters got for missing the leads in Broadway Melody, remember. In this film Larry plays Jimmy Dean, an upcoming songwriter for a sister act played by The Duncans. There’s several color sequences in the film, this clip is the last of them and the big finale of the picture. I’m Sailing On A Sunbeam Music and Lyrics by Dave Dreyer and Ballard MacDonald.

We continue to 1930 and the First National musical Spring Is Here where Larry plays a minor role as the mysterious stranger. Spring is Here is a forgettable bagatelle but contains some good songs, among them one true evergreen written by Rogers & Hart. With A Song In My Heart, performed on the screen by Lawrence Gray and Bernice Claire.

Larry made six pictures during 1930 most of them musicals like Children Of Pleasure. He was teamed up with Marilyn Miller for Sunny and once again with Marion Davies for the Floradora Girl. As 1930 ended, the spotlights faded for Larry. Musicals were falling out of fashion and his character type was no longer wanted. Among his last pictures for a major company was Man Of The World (1931) which he made on loan to Paramount in 1931. It was a total failure.

Larry soon ended up as a bit player at poverty row studios like Victory Pictures, Liberty Pictures and Conn Pictures often playing singing Cowboys in B-westerns until he finally left the acting business in 1936 and his last film role in In Paris A.W.O.L. for William Rowland Productions.

Lawrence Gray left Hollywood to settle down in his wife’s home country Mexico. He set up a distribution business working as a liaison between American and Mexican film companies. He stayed in Mexico for the rest of his life. Lawrence Gray left us in 1970, far away from Hollywood.


Lolita of the Classics said...

Blondy was a very catchy tune!

I like Lawrence Gray, he seems very comfortable and natural in his acting, even when he sing. Nice singing voice too!
But Marion Davies' accent did not impress me, haha!

I like those colour sequences in the late 1920's. I remember how impressed I was when I saw Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, and he walks down the stairs in the ball room scene in that dramatic red costume... Wow.

You wouldn't want to add me to your blog list, would you? I would appreciate it!

Great blog, by the way. //Lolita

Raquel Stecher said...

I didn't know who Larry Gray was and now I do! Yay!

I looked in the Norma Shearer bio I'm currently reading and there wasn't any mention of him. Poo. The book does kind of breeze through the silent films rather quickly.

Thanks for that image of Larry Gray & Norma Shearer from After Midnight. :-)

I'll come back when I've had a chance to see the videos.

Raquel Stecher said...

Wait, what the h-e-double hockey sticks is up with Marion Davies' accent?!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to forgive Marion Davies anything.

Anonymous said...

OT, but did anyone get vol 3 of Forbidden Hollywood yesterday. Looks fantastic.

Jonas Nordin said...

The third helping of Forbidden H'wood is on my wishlist, too bad there isn't any Larry Gray in it! :)

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous hunk! Just saw "Marianne." The second he pops up from the pile of hay -- I knew he was the male "star" of the show. It's unfortunate he didn't have a long career in movies.

Anonymous said...

I think he steals the show in "The Patsy".

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