‘Mort Sahl: Last Man Standing’ by James Curtis

Last Man Standing

Folks, please give a little love to the publication today of “Last Man Standing,” James Curtis’ new biography of Mort Sahl, who transformed standup comedy from mother-in-law gags to cutting political commentary. James, known for his biographies of W.C. Fields, William Cameron Menzies, Preston Sturges, Spencer Tracy and James Whale,  began this project as a labor of love when no publisher was interested in it. The book finally found a home at the University Press of Mississippi and has been praised by Woody Allen and Kirkus Reviews.

The book is available from Amazon, and can be ordered from Book Soup, Skylight Books and Vroman’s.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Updated + + + +)

May 6, 2017, Mystery Photo
This week’s mystery movie has been the 1939 Warner Bros. picture “Women in the Wind,” with Kay Francis, William Gargan, Victor Jory, Maxie Rosenbloom, Eddie Foy Jr., Sheila Bromley, directed by John Farrow, from a screenplay by Lee Katz and Albert DeMond, from a novel by Francis Walton. Photography was by Sid Hickox and art direction by Carl Jules Weyl.

“Women in the Wind” has apparently never been commercially released on VHS or DVD.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: California Sunshine Lures Filmmakers in 1910


Downtown Los Angeles, 1906
Downtown Los Angeles in 1906, contrasting it with the destruction in the San Francisco earthquake.

While romantic stories proliferate of how early independent filmmakers in the 1910s traveled to Los Angeles to escape the patents men of the Motion Picture Trust, reading early newspapers and trade journals in 1910 make it obvious that companies immigrated west looking for sunshine, climate, and abundant filmmaking locations. Be they members of the trust, or independent enterprises, staff of multiple companies freely talked to the press of their admiration for the City of the Angels.

Perhaps many of these moving picture immigrants were already familiar with the growing city. From the 1880s on, the city of Los Angeles promoted itself as “the land of sunshine,” plugging its great weather and climate to lure tourists and eventually new citizens of the growing metropolis in a variety of publications and exhibits. The Chamber of Commerce created striking color lithographic brochures, booklets, and ads distributed across the country promoting the greatness of Southern California.

Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester is now on sale.

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Black Dahlia: Random Old Crap Listed as ‘Black Dahlia Clone’


I’m continually surprised by the ingenuity of some EBay vendors in stretching to impossible lengths to find a link to the Black Dahlia case

The vendor in question has listed some random old flea market find as “Beautiful raven haired beauty, with an uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth Short–Black Dahlia.” And it can be yours for only $14.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Ravished Armenia and the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide


A still from “Auction of Souls,” in the Washington Times.

Note: This is a post from 2015.

For more than 120 years, Armenians have seen slaughter and death at the hands of the Ottoman Empire and the Turks. In 1894, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II ordered the first massacre and harassment of the Armenian population, with more than 300,000 people killed over three years. 30,000 Armenians were killed in 1909 when Turks in Cilicila revolted against Armenian democratization efforts. In 1915, the wholesale slaughter of Armenians began as a result of World War I, when Armenia became separated from the Allied Forces which supported it when Turkey sided with Germany. As Tony Slide reveals in his book, “Ravished Armenia and the Story of Aurora Mardiganian,” Russia invaded Turkey and British and French forces attacked Constantinople, precipitating disaster. On April 23-24, 1915, Turkish police began rounding up 800 leading Armenians in Constantinople, exiling them, and began widespread extermination of the Armenian population on April 24. This year marks the Centennial of the Twentieth Century’s first massive genocide, in which more than one million Armenians were slaughtered, half of the population at the time.

One young Christian girl, Arshalouys Mardigian “Aurora Mardiganian,” suffered horrific experiences during the genocide but survived and escaped to America. Her story of a young girl suffering abuses and ravages came to stand for that of Armenia itself when her book, “Ravished Armenia,” was released in 1918. Mardiganian herself starred later that year in a movie adaptation called “Ravished Armenia,” later changed to “Auction of Souls.” In many ways, Mardiganian represents her ravished homeland, as she was exploited and abused by the very individuals who were supposed to provide help, becoming a bit player in her own story. Her story helped publicize the widespread genocide and diaspora of her people, vividly personified in what little remains of the powerful film.

Mary Mallory’s “Hollywood land: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.

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‘Smart Girls Don’t Talk’ Special Mystery Photo



Our mystery guest from last Monday is identified in IMDB as Mike Lally. But is he? B.J. Merholz says no.

B.J. writes:

Monday’s Croupier is not Mike Lally. I knew Big Mike during his last thirty years and Little Mike agrees with me that this is not his father. We both know who this Croupier is, but can’t recall his name. He was an actor, Mike was an extra, When next I see him I’ll shoot you his name. Sundberg was a strained stab. Mike Lally was a special extra with elevated status in the guild, and at all studios, and drew more paychecks than he could keep track of.

Mike Lally in Columbo

For comparison, this is Mike Lally in “Columbo” from the Columbophile.


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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: K.O. Rahmn, Mary Pickford’s Photographer


Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in “The Taming of the Shrew,” photo by K.O. Rahmn, from Close Up.

Probably the only actor/stills photographer in early Hollywood, K. O. (Knute Olaf) Rahmn worked for Kalem Co. at its Glendale studio for several years before becoming Mary Pickford’s personal photographer in 1918. A jack-of-all-trades for Pickford, Rahmn shot portraits, candids, scene stills, and even special events, perhaps serving as much to document Pickford’s life and career as to promote it, and serving to capture her vision of her career. In fact, he serves as one of the first stills photographers signed to exclusively lens one of Hollywood’s major superstars.

Born March 20, 1876 outside Schoenberg, Sweden, Rahmn immigrated to America on March 28, 1891, and set up his own photographic studio in Greenwich, Connecticut, per his 1919 Motion Picture Studio biographical listing. Rahmn served in the New York Infantry from June 27 to November 1, 1898 during the Spanish American war, but appears never to have left the United States.

Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester is now on sale.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Updated + + + +)

April 29, 2017, Mystery Photo

This week’s mystery movie has been the 1950 MGM picture “Two Weeks – With Love,” with Jane Powell, Ricardo Montalban, Louis Calhern, Ann Harding, Phyllis Kirk, Carleton Carpenter, Debbie Reynolds, Clinton Sundberg. The screenplay was by John Larkin and Dorothy Kingsley from a story by Larkin, musical direction was by Georgie Stoll, musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley, orchestrations by Leo Arnaud and vocal arrangements by Saul Chaplin. Photography was by Alfred Gilks, art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Preston Ames, set decorations by Edwin B. Willis and Richard A. Pefferie, women’s costumes by Helen Rose, men’s costumes by Walter Plunkett, hairstyles by Sydney Guilaroff and makeup by William J. Tuttle. The producer was Jack Cummings and the director was Roy Rowland.

The movie is available from Amazon.com in several DVD sets.

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June 24, 1946: What Was the First Talkie You Saw?

“I thought talking pictures was a novelty that could never last — like miniature golf.”
— George Karg

“It was certainly an improvement over the silent pictures.”
— Mrs. Edna Helsing.

From the Inquiring Camera Girl, Maryon Zylstra, Chicago Tribune, June 24, 1946.

June 24, 1946, First Talkie

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre Turns 90


The opening of “King of Kings at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Photo courtesy of Bruce Torrence.

Still ready for its close-up, the TCL Chinese Theatre, originally Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, turns 90 on May 18, looking as glamorous and exotic as when it premiered on Hollywood Boulevard in 1927. Under construction for almost 16 months, the Chinese Theatre stands as perhaps legendary theatre impresario Sid Grauman’s ultimate masterpiece, a fabulous moving picture palace that outshines virtually anything produced by the Hollywood studio system.

While not the first film theatre devised and built by visionary Grauman, the Chinese Theatre represents the pinnacle of motion picture theatre construction, an atmospheric pleasure dome for the senses which still overwhelms with its unique beauty. Opening just two years before the start of the Great Depression, the theatre stands as a fascinating concoction of hallucinatory dream and kitsch, the ultimate symbol of success for those hoping to make it in motion picture business. Like the Hollywood Sign, the theatre acts as an iconic symbol for the city in which it was created, drawing people from around the globe hoping to soak up just a tiny bit of its special stardust.

Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester is now on sale.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Updated + + + +)

April 22, 2017, Smart Girls Don't Talk

This week’s surprisingly difficult mystery movie has been the 1948 Warner Bros. picture “Smart Girls Don’t Talk,” with Virginia Mayo, Bruce Bennett, Robert Hutton, Tom D’Andrea, Richard Rober, Helen Wescott and Richard Benedict.

It was written by William Sackheim, photographed by Ted McCord, with art direction by Stanley Fleischer, dialogue direction by John Maxwell, set decoration by William Wallace, special effects by Robert Burks, makeup by Perc Westmore, orchestrations by Leonid Raab, music by David Buttolph and produced by Saul Elkins. The movie was directed by Richard Bare.

The DVD is available from Warner Archive for $21.99.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: TCM Classic Film Festival Salutes Preservation


TCM Schedule Cover

While the TCM Classic Film Festival’s official theme for 2017 saluted comedy, the underlying thread running through this year’s festival seemed to be preservation. Featuring everything from nitrate screenings to preservation talks to archivist introductions, the Festival saluted vintage films that wouldn’t survive without the care and help of film archives and libraries.

This year’s Festival opened Thursday afternoon April 6, with a Memorial Service for Robert Osborne, for whom this year’s event was dedicated. TCM employees spoke about their beloved colleague, and clips of his time on the channel or interviewing stars at the Festival played. A five minute video highlighting Osborne’s TCM career preceded each of the screenings that day.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Updated + + + +)

This week’s mystery movie has been the 1962 MGM picture “Billy Rose’s Jumbo,” with Doris Day, Stephen Boyd, Jimmy Durante and Martha Raye, Dean Jagger, Joseph Waring, Lynn Wood, Charles Watts, James Chandler, Robert Burton, Wilson Wood, Norman Leavitt, Grady Sutton, Ron Henon, The Carlisles, The Pedrolas, The Wazzans, The Hannefords, Billy Barton, Corky Cristiani, Victor Julian, Richard Berg, Joe Monahan, Miss Lani, Adolph Dubsky, Pat Anthony, Janos Prohaska and The Barbettes.

The film was based on the musical produced by Billy Rose at the New York Hippodrome, with a book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The music was supervised and conducted by George Stoll. The film was photographed by William H. Daniels in Panavision and MetroColor, with art direction by George W. Davis and Preston Ames, and set decoration by Henry Grace and Hugh Hunt. Costumes by Morton Haack, hairstyles by Sydney Guilaroff, makeup by William Tuttle and circus acts coordinated by Al Dobritch.  The second unit director was Busby Berkeley. The screenplay was by Sidney Sheldon. The film was produced by Joe Pasternak and Martin Melcher, and directed by Charles Walters.

Historical notes: Durante appeared in the 1935 stage version as a press agent and was recast as the circus owner for the film. This was Raye’s first film since “Monsieur Verdoux” and Day’s last movie musical.

“Billy Rose’s Jumbo” is available on DVD from Amazon.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights — Nelson Evans, Hollywood’s Early Forgotten Portrait Photographer

Nelson Evans

Photo: Nelson Evans

Note: This is an encore post from 2012.

Unlike the theatrical world, the early motion picture industry was slow in recognizing the importance of photographs to help publicize and sell its films. While Broadway producers hired great New York portrait studios like Sarony, White, Lumiere, Vandamm, and Moody to shoot scene and portrait stills of stars for newspaper and magazine coverage in the early 1900s, film studios, particularly those here on the West Coast, did not engage in the practice until the mid-teens.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Updated + + + +)

April 8, 2017, Spy in Black

This week’s mystery movie (and sadly, a fairly poor print) has been the 1939 British film “Spy in Black,” the debut of “the Archers”: director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger. It featured Conrad Veidt, Sebastian Shaw and Valerie Hobson, with Marius Goring, June Duprez, Athole Stewart, Agnes Laughlan, Helen Haye, Cyril Raymond, George Summers, Hay Petrie, Grant Sutherland, Robert Rendel, Mary Morris, Margaret Moffatt, Kenneth Warrington and our mystery guest from last week, Torin Thatcher.

The movie was produced by Irving Asher, based on a story by J. Storer Clouston, screenplay by Pressburger and scenario by Roland Pertwee. The supervising art director was Vincent Korda, with art direction by Frederick Pusey, photography by Bernard Browne, music by Miklos Rozsa and musical direction by Muir Mathieson.

The DVD is available from a number of sources on Amazon and Amazon UK. The Valerie Hobson Collection (out of print, apparently) supposedly has a sharp transfer of the film, judging by reviews on Amazon.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Buster Keaton’s ‘The Italian Villa’


Note: This is an encore post from 2012.

Buster Keaton seemed to have it all in the mid-1920s. His career was riding high, as the public loved his film comedies, making him one of America’s top film personalities. He had a beautiful wife, Natalie Talmadge, and two lovely boys, though the public didn’t know that behind the scenes, the marriage was shaky. All he needed was a grand house to complete the image of the successful gentleman.

The Keatons first built a nice though average size home that Natalie considered too small for the family and staff once completed. After selling it off, Buster began planning an elaborate estate for his wife, one to rival that of her more successful sisters Norma and  Constance, as well as top stars Harold Lloyd and Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Updated + + + +)

April 1, 2017, Mystery Photo

This week’s mystery movie has been the 1952 Columbia picture “Affair in Trinidad,” with Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, Alexander Scourby, Valerie Bettis, Torin Thatcher, Howard Wendell, Karel Stepanek, George Voskovec, Steven Geray, Walter Kohler, Juanita Moore. The screenplay was by Oscar Saul and James Gunn, from a story by Virginia Van Upp and Bernie Giler,  photography by Joseph Walker, art direction by Walter Holscher, set decoration by William Kiernan. The movie was produced and directed by Vincent Sherman. Dances for Miss Hayworth created by Valerie Bettis.

The DVD was released in Sony’s Martini Movies collection and  is available from Amazon.com.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: TCM Classic Film Festival Returns to Hollywood


The TCM Classic Film Festival returns to Hollywood for its seventh year April 6-9, 2017, dedicated to the late genial host Robert Osborne. It opens Thursday afternoon with a tribute by Osborne’s colleagues and friends, with all programs that day preceded by an Osborne video tribute.

The festival features a little something for general film fans looking to see classic films on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen. This year’s theme highlights “Comedy in the Movies,” though the schedule includes pre-code, film noir, westerns, musicals, and dramas spanning the 1920s through 2000s. Introductions by stars, critics, authors, filmmakers, and family members usually precede each screening.

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Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Second Universal City Celebrates Its Centennial

Feb. 10, 1915, Universal City
Universal City in the Washington Times, Feb. 10, 1915.

Note: This is an encore post from 2015.

In an age where businesses come and go, bought up by larger competitors or going under due to bad financial decisions, finding one in business for decades and at the same location is very rare. Film conglomerate NBC-Universal has operated for over a century at its current Universal City location, the thriving second Universal City for the company, celebrating its Centennial, March 15, 2015.

Founder Carl Laemmle jumped into the film business as a Chicago exhibitor in 1906, quickly turning his Laemmle Film Service into one of the largest film exchanges in the country in 1909. After threats and questions by the Motion Picture Patents Company, Laemmle established his own production company, IMP Corporation (Independent Motion Picture Corporation).

Mary Mallory’s “Hollywood land: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.

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Movieland Mystery Photo (Week 2 — Updated + + + +)

March 25, 2017, Roughly Speaking
The two weeks’ mystery movie has been the 1945 Warner Bros. film “Roughly Speaking,” with Rosalind Russell, Jack Carson, Robert Hutton, Jean Sullivan, Donald Woods, Alan Hale, Andrea King, Ann Doran, Mona Freeman, Robert Arthur, Ray Collins, John Qualen, Kathleen Lockhart and Ann Todd. The screenplay was by Louise Randall Pierson from her book. The film was photographed by Joseph Walker, with art direction by Robert Haas, set decorations by George James Hopkins, dialogue direction by Frederick de Cordova, wardrobe by Leah Rhodes, Russell’s gowns by Travis Banton, music arrangements by Hugo Friedhofer, musical direction by Leo F. Forbstein, music by Max Steiner, produced by Henry Blanke and directed by Michael Curtiz.

It is available on DVD from Warner Archive for $17.99.

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