Keaton signed with MGM in 1928, a business decision that he would later call the worst of his life. He realized too late that the studio systemMGM represented would severely limit his creative input. For instance, the studio refused his request to make his early project, Spite Marriage, as a sound film and after the studio converted, he was obliged to adhere to dialogue-laden scripts. However, MGM did allow Keaton to direct his last originally developed/written silent film The Cameraman, 1928, which was his first project under contract with MGM.
Keaton was forced to use a stunt double during some of the more dangerous scenes, as MGM wanted badly to protect its investment. He also stopped directing, but continued to perform and made some of his most financially successful films for the studio. MGM tried teaming the laconic Keaton with the rambunctious Jimmy Durantein a series of films, The Passionate Plumber, Speak Easily, and What! No Beer? The latter would be Keaton’s last starring feature. The films proved popular. (Thirty years later, both Keaton and Durante had cameo roles in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.)
In the first Keaton pictures with sound, he and his fellow actors would shoot each scene three times: one in English, one in Spanish, and one in either French or German. The actors would phonetically memorize the foreign-language scripts a few lines at time and shoot immediately after. This is discussed in the TCM documentary Buster Keaton: So Funny it Hurt, with Keaton complaining about having to shoot lousy films not just once, but three times.
Keaton was so depleted during the production of 1933’s What! No Beer? that MGM fired him after the filming was complete, despite the film being a resounding hit. In 1934, Keaton accepted an offer to make an independent film in Paris, Le Roi des Champs-Élysées. During this period, he made one other film in Europe, The Invader (released in America as An Old Spanish Custom in 1936).
DuringWorld War II, they entertained theAlliedforces extensively inAmerica, Africa andItaly, visitingArmy,Navy,MarineandCoast Guardbases, war zones,hospitals, and munitions factories. They encouraged U.S. citizens to purchasewar bondswith their rendition ofIrving Berlin’s songAny Bonds Today?. They also helpedactorsBette DavisandJohn GarfieldfoundCalifornia’s famousHollywood Canteen, a welcome retreat forservicemenwhere the trio often performed, volunteering their personal time to sing and dance for thesoldiers,sailorsandMarines(they did the same atNew York City’sStage Door Canteenduring the war). While touring, they often treated three random servicemen to dinner when they were dining out. They recorded a series of Victory Discs (V-Discs) for distribution toAlliedfighting forces only, again volunteering their time for studio sessions for the Music Branch, Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, and they were dubbed the “Sweethearts of theArmed Forces Radio Service” for their many appearances on shows like “Command Performance”, “Mail Call”, and “G.I.Journal.”
Maxine Andrews commented of their time performing to serviceman;
“I remember we sang it up in Seattle when a whole shipload of troops went out. We stood there on the deck and all those young men up there waving and yelling and screaming. As we sang “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” all the mothers and sisters and sweethearts sang with us as the ship went off. It was wonderful. The songs were romantic. It was a feeling of—not futility. It was like everybody in the United States held on to each other’s hands.
“I felt we were invincible. Right is right and we were right and we’re gonna win. But the news was not encouraging. Remember Boak Carter, the commentator? My father would listen to him every night. We were in California, doing a picture with Abbott and Costello: Buck Privates. I would look on the set and see all those wonderful young men. It would go through my mind: am I ever gonna see them again? This was ‘39, ‘40. We were not yet in. But I had this great fear.
“My sisters and I were so involved in our work, we didn’t have much time to think of anything else. But oh, I remember the day war was declared. We were in Cincinnati. It looked like we were gonna break the house record in the theater. It didn’t matter how cold it was or how high the snow, people were lined up for blocks. Every morning I’d walk over to the theater, seeing the lines already formed. This Sunday morning, I walked over and there were no lines. I thought, Now, this is funny. I walked onto the stage, which was very dark. The doorman and the stagehands were sitting around the radio. They had just one light on. They were talking about Pearl Harbor being bombed. I asked the doorman, “Where is Pearl Harbor?” Of course, the rest of the week there was no business.
“But after that, as the war continued, attendance was tremendous. There was a sort of frenzy and a wonderful kind of gaiety. There was more money around than there had ever been. Our records became big sellers. Remember, during the Depression it was terrible. We closed every RKO theater in the country from north to south to east to west. We were doing three shows a day. With the war years, we did five, six shows a day. We toured almost fifty weeks a year in theaters.
“No matter how many shows a day we did, we always went to the camps. We always made the hospitals when they started bringing the boys back. We were the only girls allowed in Oak Knoll Hospital when they were brought back from the Solomon Islands. They were known as basket cases.
“We were working at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco when a Red Cross nurse asked us if we’d come out and do a show. She kept us outside for a while. She said it would be something different from whatever we’ve seen. The most important thing was that we must not break down. The last thing the boys needed were tears.
“We walked into the first ward and it was very quiet. When we were announced, there wasn’t any applause at all. It was a very long ward. We were ushered into the middle. There were beds in front of us, beds behind us. We finally looked. The sight was terrible. We saw boys with no arms or legs, with half-faces. The three of us held on to each other, because we were afraid we were going to faint. The terrible thing is to hold back the tears.
“We sang for about forty-five minutes. I think some of the fellas realized how we were feeling. One of the boys, all clothed in bandages, started to cry. He was crying throughout the numbers. Finally, one of the fellas yelled, “Don’t pay any attention to him, he’s just dreaming about his girlfriend.” We stayed there for about three hours, going from ward to ward.
“As we were leaving, a male nurse came over to us: “I have a young patient who would love to hear you sing.” He asked us to sing something soft. Nice and easy and relaxed. We went down a long, long hallway and stopped in front of a door that two male nurses were guarding. We were ushered in. We were in a padded cell. The two guards closed the door behind us. We were alone.
“In the corner, we saw a figure facing the wall. We started to sing “Apple Blossom Time.” About halfway through, we began to hear this hum. It was discordant and got louder and louder. When we came to the end of the song, we didn’t stop. We just kept singing. We repeated it and repeated it. The figure turned around. He couldn’t have been more than nineteen years old. His eyes were looking at us, but he wasn’t seeing us. He was lost in another world. He was just humming and humming. He was so handsome and so young.
“A few months later, at the Golden Gate Theatre, the doorman came to us: “You have a visitor.” We were just about to do our last show. In walked a serviceman. On his back was another serviceman, with no arms and no legs. One we had seen in the ward. He had his artificial arms on. He said, “I never asked you for your autograph, because I said that one day I was going to give you mine.” He leaned over on the dressing table and he signed his name: it was Ted.
“We went overseas for the USO. Our last date was in Naples. We were billeted in Caserta, eighteen miles away. We did all our shows at repo depots, where all the guys were being shipped out. We had one more show to do. It was loaded with about eight thousand of the most unhappy-looking audience you’d ever seen. They were hanging from the rafters. All these fellas were being shipped out to the South Pacific. They hadn’t been home for four years, and it was just their bad luck. We were trying to get them into good spirits.
“We were pretty well through with the show when I heard someone offstage calling me: “Pssst. Pssst.” Patty was doing a little scene with Arthur Treacher. The soldier said to me, “I have a very important message for Patty to tell the audience.” I started to laugh, because they were always playing tricks on us. He said, “I’m not kidding. It’s from the CO.” I said, “I can’t do it in the middle of the show.” He said, “You’re gonna get me in trouble.” So I took the piece of paper. I didn’t read it. I walked out on the stage, saying to myself I’m gonna get in trouble with Patty, with Arthur, with the CO. I waited until the skit was over. Patty said, “Stop your kidding. We can’t read that here. We’ve got to finish the show.” I shoved the note at her. She finally said, “All right, I’ll go along with the gag.”
“So she said to the fellas, “Look, it’s a big joke up here. I have a note supposedly from the CO.” Without reading it first, she read it out loud. It announced the end of the war with Japan. There wasn’t a sound in the whole auditorium. She looked at it again. She looked at me. It was serious. So she said, “No, fellas, this is from the CO. This is an announcement that the war is over, so you don’t have to go.” With that, she started to cry. Laverne and I were crying. Still there was no reaction from the guys. So she said it again: “This is the end, this is the end.”
“All of a sudden, all hell broke loose. They yelled and screamed. We saw a pair of pants and a shirt come down from above. Following it was a body. He came down and fell on the guys sitting downstairs. Patty said, “You want to go out and get drunk? Or you want to see the show?” “No, no, no, we want to see the rest of the show.” We made it very short.
“We got into the jeep, and all of a sudden it hit us. Oh heavens, if this is a joke, they’re gonna tar and feather us. We’ll have to swim all the way back to the States. We suffered until we got to Caserta. They reassured us that the announcement was true.
“A few years ago, Patty was working someplace in Cleveland. She checked into the hotel and was in the elevator. This elevator man said, “Don’t you remember me?” He was a short, baldheaded guy. She said, “Should I?” He said, “Yeah, remember Naples? Remember the guy that fell off the rafter? That was me.”
Rogers’ entertainment career was born one night when the traveling vaudevilleact of Eddie Foycame to Fort Worth and needed a quick stand-in. She then entered and won a Charleston dancecontest which allowed her to tour for six months, at one point in 1926 performing at an 18-month-old theater called The Craterian in Medford, Oregon. This theater honored her many years later by changing its name to the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.
At 17, Rogers married Jack Culpepper, a singer/dancer/comedian/recording artist of the day who worked under the name Jack Pepper(according to Ginger’s autobiography, she knew Culpepper when she was a child, as her cousin’s boyfriend). They formed a short-lived vaudeville double act known as “Ginger and Pepper”. The marriage was over within months, and she went back to touring with her mother. When the tour got to New York City, she stayed, getting radio singing jobs and then her Broadway theaterdebut in a musical called Top Speed, which opened onChristmas Day, 1929.
Within two weeks of opening in Top Speed, Rogers was chosen to star on Broadway in Girl Crazy by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, the musical play widely considered to have made stars of both her and Ethel Merman. Fred Astaire was hired to help the dancers with their choreography. Her appearance in Girl Crazy made her an overnight star at the age of 19. In 1930, she was signed byParamount Pictures to a seven-year contract.
Kelly was born in theHighland Parkneighborhood ofPittsburgh,Pennsylvania. He was the third son of Harriet Catherine (née Curran) and James Patrick Joseph Kelly, aphonographsalesman. His father was born inPeterborough, Canada, to a family of Irish descent. His maternal grandfather was an immigrant fromDerryin northern Ireland and his maternal grandmother was of German ancestry. At the age of eight, was enrolled by his mother in dance classes, along with his elder brother James. They both rebelled, and, according to Kelly: “We didn’t like it much and were continually involved in fistfights with the neighborhood boys who called us sissies…I didn’t dance again until I was fifteen.” He thought it would be a good way to get girls. Kelly returned to dance on his own initiative and by then was an accomplished sportsman and well able to take care of himself. He attended St. Raphael Elementary School in theMorningsideneighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated fromPeabody High Schoolin 1929 at the age of sixteen. He enrolled inPennsylvania State Collegeto study journalism but the economic crash obliged him to seek employment to help with the family’s finances. At this time, he worked up dance routines with his younger brother Fred in order to earn prize money in local talent contests, and they also performed in local nightclubs.
In 1931, Kelly enrolled at theUniversity of Pittsburghto study economics where he joined thePhi Kappa Thetafraternity. While at Pitt, Kelly became involved in the university’sCap and Gown Club, which staged original, comedic musical productions. Earning a Bachelor of Arts in Economics with his graduation from Pitt in 1933, he remained active with the Cap and Gown Club, serving as its director from 1934 to 1938, while at the same time enrolling in theUniversity of Pittsburgh Law School. Also during this period, the Kelly’s family started a dance studio on Munhall Road in theSquirrel Hillneighborhood of Pittsburgh in 1930. In 1932, the dance studio was renamed The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance. A second location was opened inJohnstown, Pennsylvaniain 1933. Kelly served as a teacher at the dance studio during both his undergraduate and law student years at Pitt. In 1931, he was approached by theRodef Shalom synagoguein Pittsburgh to teach dance and stage the annual Kermess and was so successful that his services were retained for seven years until his departure for New York. Eventually, though, he decided to pursue his career as a dance teacher and entertainer full-time and so dropped out of law school after two months. He began to focus increasingly on performing, later claiming: “With time I became disenchanted with teaching because the ratio of girls to boys was more than ten to one, and once the girls reached sixteen the dropout rate was very high.” In 1937, having successfully managed and developed the family’s dance school business, he moved toNew York Cityin search of work as a choreographer.
In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckleat the Talmadge Studios in New York City, where Arbuckle was under contract to Joseph M. Schenck. Joe Keaton disapproved of films, and Buster also had reservations about the medium. During his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He took the camera back to his hotel room, dismantled and reassembled it. With this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures, he returned the next day, camera in hand, asking for work. He was hired as a co-star and gag man, making his first appearance in The Butcher Boy. Keaton later claimed that he was soon Arbuckle’s second director and his entire gag department. Keaton and Arbuckle became close friends.
In 1920, The Saphead was released, in which Keaton had his first starring role in a full-length feature. It was based on a successful play, The New Henrietta, which had already been filmed once, under the title “The Lamb” withDouglas Fairbanks playing the lead. Fairbanks recommended Keaton to take up the role for the remake five years later, since the film was to have a comic slant.
After Keaton’s successful work with Arbuckle, Schenck gave him his own production unit, Buster Keaton Comedies. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including One Week (1920), The Playhouse (1921), Cops (1922), and The Electric House (1922). Keaton then moved to full-length features, his first starring role being in The Saphead (1920).
Keaton’s writers included Clyde Bruckmanand Jean Havez, but the most ingenious gags were generally conceived by Keaton himself. Comedy director Leo McCarey, recalling the freewheeling days of making slapstickcomedies, said, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!” The more adventurous ideas called for dangerous stunts, performed by Keaton at great physical risk. During the railroad water-tank scene in Sherlock Jr., Keaton broke his neck when a torrent of water fell on him from a water tower, but he did not realize it until years afterward. A scene from Steamboat Bill Jr. required Keaton to run into the shot and stand still on a particular spot. Then, the facade of a two-story building toppled forward on top of Keaton. Keaton’s character emerged unscathed, thanks to a single open window which passed directly over him. The stunt required precision, because the prop house weighed two tons, and the window only offered a few inches of space around Keaton’s body. The sequence became one of the iconic images of Keaton’s career.
The film criticDavid Thomsonlater described Keaton’s style of comedy: “Buster plainly is a man inclined towards a belief in nothing but mathematics and absurdity … like a number that has always been searching for the right equation. Look at his face — as beautiful but as inhuman as a butterfly — and you see that utter failure to identify sentiment.” Gilberto Perez describes “Keaton’s genius as an actor to keep a face so nearly deadpan and yet render it, by subtle inflections, so vividly expressive of inner life. His large deep eyes are the most eloquent feature; with merely a stare he can convey a wide range of emotions, from longing to mistrust, from puzzlement to sorrow.” Keaton even inspired full academic study.
Aside from Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), Keaton’s most enduring feature-length films include Our Hospitality (1923), The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), Seven Chances (1925), The Cameraman (1928), and The General (1927). The General, set during theAmerican Civil War, combined physical comedy with Keaton’s love of trains, including an epic locomotive chase. Employing picturesque locations, the film’s storyline reenacted anactual wartime incident. Though it would come to be regarded as Keaton’s proudest achievement, the film received mixed reviews at the time. It was too dramatic for some filmgoers expecting a lightweight comedy, and reviewers questioned Keaton’s judgment in making a comedic film about the Civil War, even while noting it had a “few laughs”.The fact that the heroes of the story were from theConfederate side may have also contributed to the film’s unpopularity.
It was an expensive misfire, and Keaton was never entrusted with total control over his films again. His distributor,United Artists, insisted on a production manager who monitored expenses and interfered with certain story elements. Keaton endured this treatment for two more feature films, and then exchanged his independent setup for employment at Hollywood’s biggest studio,Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer(MGM). Keaton’s loss of independence as a filmmaker coincided with the coming of sound films (although he was interested in making the transition) and mounting personal problems, and his career in the early sound era was hurt as a result.
Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath inIndependence, Missouri, the only child of William Eddins McMath, anelectrical engineer, and his wife, Lela Emogene Owens (1891–1977). Ginger’s parents separated soon after her birth, and she and her mother went to live with her grandparents, Walter and Saphrona (née Ball) Owens, in nearbyKansas City. Rogers’ parents fought over her custody. After her mother denied him visitation, her father reportedly absconded with his daughter twice. After her parents divorced, Rogers stayed with her grandparents while her mother wrote scripts for two years inHollywood. Rogers was to remain close to her grandfather (much later, when she was a star in 1939, she bought him a home at 5115 Greenbush Avenue inSherman Oaks, California so that he could be close to her while she was filming at the studios).
One of Rogers’ young cousins, Helen, had a hard time pronouncing “Virginia”, shortening it to “Ginga”; the nickname stuck. When “Ginga” was nine years old, her mother remarried, to John Logan Rogers. Ginger took the surname Rogers, although she was never legally adopted. They lived in Fort Worth, Texas. Her mother became a theater critic for a local newspaper, the Fort Worth Record. She attended but did not graduate from Fort Worth’s Central High School. As a teenager, Rogers thought of becoming a schoolteacher, but with her mother’s interest in Hollywood and the theater, her early exposure to the theater increased. Waiting for her mother in the wings of the Majestic Theatre, she began to sing and dance along with the performers on stage.
Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly (August 23, 1912 – February 2, 1996) was an American dancer, actor, singer, film director and producer, and choreographer. Kelly was known for his energetic and athletic dancing style, his good looks and the likeable characters that he played on screen.
Although he is known today for his performances in Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, he was a dominant force in Hollywood musical films from the mid 1940s until this art form fell out of fashion in the late 1950s. His many innovations transformed theHollywood musical film, and he is credited with almost single-handedly making the ballet form commercially acceptable to film audiences.
Kelly was the recipient of anAcademy Honorary Awardin 1952 for his career achievements. He later received lifetime achievement awards in theKennedy Center Honors, and from theScreen Actors GuildandAmerican Film Institute; in 1999, the American Film Institute also numbered him 15th in theirGreatest Male Stars of All Timelist.