Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mamba at the Astor in Melbourne - Part 2

This post is continued from last weeks post about the Mamba world premiere at The Astor in Melbourne on Nov 21 at 8pm.

In the first post I wrote about Mamba's and Tiffany Pictures historical background. In this post I will write about the actors in the leading roles of the film. Unfortunately they are almost forgotten today, at least if you compare them to superstars like Garbo or Gable.

Mamba was very well received by the audience as well as by the press.  Tiffany had made sure the film would become a smash hit by hiring some of the most prominent actors at the time for the lead parts.

Jean Hersholt 1927
August Bolte - Jean Hersholt
Jean Hersholt was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1886, the son of Clair and Henry Hersholt, both actors at the Danish Folk Theatre. From an early age young Jean went on tour performing with his family all over Europe. Back at home in Copenhagen he went to art school and soon got recognition for his fine pencil drawings.

Hersholt drawing von Stroheim (1923)
But it was the acting that really got him. After some years at the art school he went on to acting school at the Dagmar Thaatre in Copenhagen. In 1906 he had roles in three of the earliest films produced for the Danish market. Those were all short comedies, very typical of the times. At 22, in 1908 he left Denmark for Canada and settled down first in Montreal then on to New York. In 1914 he left New York for Hollywood. In 1915 he was hired as responsible for the Danish pavilion at the Pan Pacific exhibition in San Francisco. It was at this time he met Thomas Ince, a Hollywood producer and director. Ince soon realized Hersholt was made of the right stuff and hired him as one of his regulars. Hersholt played in most of Inces films 1918-22. He even got to direct some of the films he played in. Ince is mostly known today because of the scandal surrounding his death in 1924 when he suposedly was killed aboard W.R. Hearst’s yacht.

Thomas Ince
Hersholt’s career took a big leap in 1922 when he got one of the leading roles in John S. Robertson’s Tess of The Storm Country with Mary Pickford. Then on to von Stroheim’s giant epic Greed, in which he played Marcus Schouler, the villain. Showing he was capable to shine in almost any role given to him he quickly became a regular first at Goldwyn and Paramount and later at MGM.

Greed (1924)
Hersholt made the transition to talkies without any difficulties, his Danish accent was no problem. With the arrival of the talkies his roles shifted from villains to caring father figures, teachers and European noblemen. At MGM he had big supporting roles in prestige productions like Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner At Eight (1933). He was Shirley Temple’s grandfather in Heidi (1937).

Grand Hotel (1932)
But it was the role as a doctor that would provide a continuing vehicle for Hersholt and something of a fateful direction for the actor. The mid-30s were abuzz with the births of the Dionne Quintuplets in Canada. Hollywood jumped on, highlighting the story and the officiating obstetrician, Dr. Dafoe, who was translated into Dr. John Luke, in The Country Doctor (1936). Hersholt brought the right ingredients to the part of Luke and two years later a sequel followed, Five of a Kind (1938). Hersholt was enthusiastic about a series of movies, but Dafoe himself blocked this idea. Nevertheless, in 1937 Hersholt had already germinated a new radio series to continue portraying a dedicated and kindly small town doctor. For a character name Hersholt turned to his most beloved author, his countryman, literary light Hans Christian Andersen, for a name-Dr. Christian. It was a hit and, and he convinced RKO Radio Pictures to bankroll a series of six Dr. Christian films (1939-41). The radio series stayed on the air every week for 17 years, about 800 episodes.

In the early 1940's Hersholt more or less left the movies but stayed in the business working with many different charity projects. In 1939 he funded The Motion Picture Relief Fund, an organization that helped to support industry employees with medical care when they were down on their luck and was used to create the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA. This led to the creation in 1956 of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian an honorary Academy Award given to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry". Hersholt was President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1945-49. Another lesser known function he had was as Chairman of the Hollywood chamber of commerce in the early 1950’s and as such he helped negotiate the rights for the Scandinavian Airlines transatlantic flights in 1954. He was very proud of being Danish, throughout his life he helped spread Danish and Scandinavian culture to the world. One of his major achievements was translating all of Hans Christian Andersens stories to the English language. His translations are still regarded as the best.

Jean Hersholt's home in Hollywood
Jean Hersholt made 443 films, got two honorary Oscars and is one of few who has two stars at the Hollywood walk of fame. One for his contributions to Motion Pictures, the other for his extensive radio work. Jean Hersholt died of pancreatic cancer in 1956, only months after having introduced Dr Christian to TV.

Eleanor Boardman - Photoplay January 1928
Helen von Linden - Eleanor Boardman
Born in Philadelphia 1898 to strict, Presbyterian parents. After graduation from The Academy of Fine Arts in her home town she left for New York hoping for a career on Broadway. When that didn’t work out as expected, she became a model for Kodak. This worked out splendidly and she eventually became the official Kodak Girl. With her face on posters all over the country she was of course hoping for some movie mogul to spot her and take her to Hollywood.

Eleanor Boardman early in her career
After some time as Kodak girl she heard that the Selwyn Organization, a major producer of Broadway plays, was looking for girls with no stage experience. Since she was more than qualified in that respect, she tried out for the job and before she knew it she was in the chorus line of a production called "Rock-a-Bye-Baby" until the show closed three months later. Unfortunately she caught laryngitis and temporarily lost her voice, making it difficult to continue on the stage. It was at this time that a casting director for Goldwyn Pictures hit the Broadway scene looking for new faces. She tested for him and impressed him enough that he finally picked her out of a pool of more than 1000 young girls who tested for the opportunity to go to Hollywood.

Well in Hollywood followed months of fruitless effort until one day Rupert Hughes saw her riding a horse and gave her a part in a film and she quickly began to attract audiences. She was chosen by Goldwyn Pictures as their "New Face of 1922", through which she signed a contract with the company. After several successful supporting roles, she played the lead in 1923's Souls for Sale. Her growing popularity was reflected by inclusion on the list of WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1923. Her contract was renewed in 1924 when Goldwyn merged with Metro and became MGM.

Souls For Sale (1923)
She appeared in fewer than forty films during her career, achieving her greatest success in Vidor's The Crowd in 1928. Her moving performance in that film is widely recognized as one of the outstanding performances in American silent films. She ultimately stayed with MGM until 1932. Boardman retired in 1935, and retreated completely from Hollywood and public life. Her only subsequent appearance was in an interview filmed for the Kevin Brownlow and David Gill documentary series Hollywood in 1980.

With James Murray in The Crowd (1928)
1926-31 Boardman was married to the film director King Vidor, with whom she had two daughters, Antonia born 1927, and Belinda born 1930, just before shooting of Mamba started . In September of 1926 fellow actors John Gilbert and Greta Garbo had planned a double wedding with them, but Garbo broke off the plans at the last minute. Boardman's second husband was Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast to whom she was married from 1940 until his death in 1968. She died in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 93.

Eleanor Boardman and King Vidor
Eleanor Boardman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to Motion Pictures.
Mamba was her first talkie and the only film she made in color.

Ralph Forbes by Clarence Sinclair Bull (1928)
Lieutenant Karl von Reiden - Ralph Forbes 
There is a lot of confusion about Forbes birth date. The date varies from 1896, 1901 to 1904. According to the Civil registration records in the UK, September 30, 1904 is the correct date. Born in an acting family in London, England. Both his parents and little sister were stage actors so the choice of profession might have been easy for young Ralph. He started his career on stage as a teenager in London. This led to some roles in British films, among them the early color movie His Glorious Adventure, shot in Prizmacolor 1922, and also a Swedish version of Charley's Aunt shot in England and Sweden between 1922-26 before leaving for Hollywood in 1926 to play fellow Englishman Ronald Coleman's brother in the Paramount big budgeter Beau Geste.

Beau Geste (1926)
In 1924 Forbes married the celebrated Broadway actress Ruth Chatterton who was eleven years his senior. The couple settled down in Hollywood and Chatterton soon also made her debut on the silver screen.

Ralph Forbes and Ruth Chatterton
Forbes striking looks made things easy and he got quite important roles almost immediately. He was cast against many of the biggest names right from the start. Norma Shearer, Lon Chaney, Dolores Del Rio, Clara Bow, Corinne Griffith and so on.
Forbes and Clara Bow in Her Wedding Night (1930)
Ralph Forbes was perhaps not one of the bigger names in Hollywood, some might even describe him as an MGM bit player, but considering he made about five films a year throughout the 30's and who he made those films with I think it's fair to call him a true movie star.
Forbes about to hit John Barrymore in the face in 20th Century (1934)
Forbes and Chatterton divorced in 1932. Forbes Movie career basically ended in the early 40's but got some new life with the arrival of TV and the Playhose series. In 1951 Forbes fell ill and passed away far to early, he was 46.

Eleanor Boardman and Jean Hersholt in Mamba
Mamba is a phenomenal early all color talkie that deserves its place in Movie history. Come see for your self and have a chat with me on Monday night at the Astor in Melbourne. Tickets are still on sale!

1 comment:

Raquel Stecher said...

This post is amazing! Chock full of great information about the actors in the film. Jean Hersholt made 443 movies? WHAT?! I love that he created a foundation to provide medical care for actors in need. I mean, I'm sure a lot of people were like, who cares about actors, they make loads of money. But a lot of them weren't wise with money and fell on really hard times for many reasons. I like that some could get medical care. I'm always fascinated by the life these early actors led after they left Hollywood.

OMG! I didn't know that about the double wedding with Greta Garbo. I love double weddings. Too bad that one didn't happen. More people should do those. Would save money.

Great post. You are a rock star AND walking encyclopedia.

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