Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mummy Trilogy

O Amon-Ra. O God of Gods. Death is but the doorway to new life —we live today; we shall live again….In many forms shall we return, O mighty one."
With these immortal utterances from the Scroll of Thoth, impetuous assistant Ralph Norton ( Branwall Fletcher ) conjured up to life the embalmed remains of 3,700 year old Im-ho-tep, an Ancient Egyptian priest. Shrouded in musty, tattered strips of cloth, Im-ho-tep’s eyes sleepily awoke to gaze at his resurrector before walking off with the scroll in quest of the reincarnation of the soul of his love, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon.
Before he ventures off to Cairo to search for his beloved he removes his bandaged covering and guises himself as a modern Egyptian….an Egyptian who bears a striking resemblance to none other than - Boris Karloff. Zoinks!
The 1932 version of The Mummy created by Dracula director Carl Laemmle Jr. started a box-office bonanza of mummy sagas which spanned over 80 years. To this day he remains quite a powerful character of horror despite his relatively recent creation. Whilst fiendish foes like our sanguinary Count Dracula or the Wolf Man or Frankenstein were developed from legends dating from the 1700-1800s, The Mummy was a character conceived solely for the purpose of this film.

Universal Studio’s story editor Richard Shay was commissioned by Carl Laemmle Jr. to write a Egyptian-themed horror story loosely based on the mystery surrounding the opening of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Laemmle was pleased with a nine-page treatment Shay and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam developed about a 3,000 year old magician who never dies and hired John L. Balderstone to write a script surrounding it…he changed the name of our mummy to Im-ho-tep, after the famous architect of the period and history was made.
Although The Mummy was not favored by critics at the time of its release it still remains a cult horror classic and Universal saw enough potential in the story line to resurrect it in a re-make only eight years later, The Mummy's Hand. Unlike the first film, the Mummy remains under-cloth until his supposed demise at the finale of the film.

“ Anck-es-en-Amon, my love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods. No man ever suffered as I did for you. ”
Of course, with all good stories one re-telling is simply not enough and so out popped The Mummy's Tomb in 1942, a completely new take on the story. The writers even went so far as changing the mummy's name from Im-ho-tep to Kharis! This film was set in Massachusetts in the 1970s and featured Lon Chaney Jr. as the mummy, a role he was to reprise in the next two sequels.

The Mummy's Hand ( 1940 ) Western star Tom Tyler portrays the obedient Kharis who, with the aid of a little tana-leaf tea, is sent to kill the defilers of an Egyptian tomb ( played that other Western star, Dick Foran ). George Zucco co-stars as the control-agent of the ancient assassin, and Peggy Moran as his look-alike lover.
The Mummy's Tomb ( 1942 ) - Lon Chaney Jr. gets all wrapped up in the role of the mummy when he is taken to New England by an Egyptian priest to once again revenge the archeologists who defiled his tomb. Tsk, tsk, tsk…those archeologists are something else. Dick Foran, Turhan Bey and Elyse Knox star.
The Mummy's Ghost ( 1943 ) - While experimenting with the Egyptian practice of burning tana-leaves during a full moon to revive a mummy, a college professor "calls" the mummy to just so happens that one of the students at the college resembles his long-lost love, Princess Ananka. What a small world! Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Ramsay Ames, and Robert Lowery star.
The Mummy's Curse ( 1944 ) – By some inexplicable happening, the mummy and his ancient princess Anaka are found in a swamp in Louisiana by a construction crew – after they died in a bog in Massachusetts in the last film! In spite of this slight oversight, this film abounds with Bayou atmosphere and contains some great scenes. Dennis Moore, Holmes Herbert, Martin Kosleck, Kay Harding.
In 1958, Hammer Studios, the famed British film company known for horror films began a series of monster classics based on the original Universal Films..... The Curse of Frankenstein ( 1957 ) starring Christopher Lee, The Horror of Dracula ( 1958 ) also starring Christopher Lee, and of course The Mummy ( 1959 ) starring - you guessed it - Christopher Lee. This time shot in Eastmancolor it basically followed the same story line as The Mummy's Hand...namely, a follower of an Egyptian god of yore seeks out to revenge the sacrilege of the princess's tomb by sending the Mummy out to annihilate those who desecrated her gravesite. In this case, it is Stephan Banning and his expedition ( Peter Cushing, Felix Aylmer, and Raymond Huntley ) Once again the success of this film inspired a series of continuing stories....
The Mummy ( 1958 ) – Quite simply a colorized version of The Mummy’s Hand and the Mummy’s Tomb combined, although it has a nice twist at the end with Peter Cushing’s wife bearing a striking resemblance to Princess Anaka and thus saving him from strangulation.
Curse of the Mummy's Tomb ( 1964 ) – European Egyptologists discover the tomb of the ancient prince Ra and are intent on shipping the artifacts to London…against the wishes of someone dead intent on making sure they remain at their rightful place in Egypt. Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, and Terence Morgan star.
The Mummy’s Shroud ( 1966 ) – Once again, The Mummy’s Hand remade. The only standout feature in this film is its corny tagline… “ Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet! ” Starring Andre Morell, John Phillips, and Elizabeth Sellars.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb ( 1971 ) – In this retelling of the story there is quite a notable change…the mummy is not a man but a mommy! Yes, the shapely Valerie Leon portrays Queen Tera, an ancient Egyptian queen known for her magical powers. She has a few immortable powers up her sleeve too. James Villiers and Andrew Kier co-star.
But wait there's more! Ah yes, we come to the third set in the Mummy Trilogy. For all the little tikes that weren't born in the golden age of film Universal conjured up a new series of action-adventures in 1999 surrounding our beloved wrapped-up ghoul.
The Mummy ( 1999 ) – An English librarian and an American Foreign Legion officer accidentally unleash the curse of the ancient high-priest Im-ho-tep and must fight off the life-sucking mummy. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah star.
The Mummy Returns ( 2001 ) – In Ancient Egypt, the Scorpion King sold his soul to the god Anubi and was forgotten forever…until that is, Rick ( Brendan Fraser ) and his wife and son discover the bracelet of Anubis which leads them to oasis of Ahm Shere and the Scorpion King and his jackal headed henchmen’s revival. Rachal Weisz, John Hannah and Arnold Vosloo costar.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ( 2008 ) – The O’Connell family are once again fighting dead people, this time in the Far East where they must battle with a shape-shifting Samurai emperor cursed many a year ago by a witch. Brendan Fraser, Jet Li and Luke Ford star.

 Well, I think this here blog wraps up the trilogy series quite well...pardon the pun.
“ Death is only the beginning ”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Miriam Hopkins - A Daring Diva

Miriam Hopkins ranked among the top film actresses of the 1930s, especially among the critics. Like her peer, Bette Davis, her stellar career spanned from the 1920s through the 1960s and encompassed theatre, radio, television and film. From her first film in 1930 she displayed a verve that made her destined for stardom, but, unlike Davis, she did not have the fighting spunk to make a "comeback" in the 1950s to keep her name in the headlines. 

This minor detail, and the fact that the majority of her films have not been released for home viewing, have contributed to Hopkins becoming one of the most underrated and overlooked actresses of the silver screen.

Whereas stars like Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Constance Bennett are acknowledged and revered in books, blogs, and photo sites, Miriam Hopkins seems to have been buried in the sands of forgotten film greats. And unjustly so. Hopkins possessed more than just a pretty face. She was one heck of a great actress. Although she was capable of portraying any kind of role she was handed, she really excelling at playing provocative and tantalizing hussies. B****s to be precise. This was her forte and no one came close to displaying the talent she had at portraying these kind of women.

The Early Years

Ellen Miriam Hopkins was born into a wealthy Savannah family on October 18, 1902. As a young woman she attended some of the finest educational institutions such as Goddard Seminary and Syracuse University. After studying dance in New York she tried her hand at show business, beginning as a chorus girl and later appearing in local musicals before she attempted dramatic parts during the mid-1920s. While appearing in stock companies in the East Coast she receiving rave reviews for her performances and decided to head out west to California and fight her way to stardom. 

Paramount Studios was eager to sign her to a contract and her experience as a stage actress landed her a plum first part in the film Fast and Loose ( 1930 ). Within a year she was performing opposite Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and starring with Paramount's biggest actor, Maurice Chevalier, in Ernst Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant. She went on to make two more films for Lubitsch ( Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living ) which she recalled in later years as being her personal favorites.

Hopkins was basking in the glory of stardom during the early 1930s. It was her most active decade and of the 35 films she made in her entire career, 22 were produced between 1930 and 1937. The majority of these films were huge successes, both financially and critically, notably The Story of Temple Drake, which became famous for clamping the lid on eroticism and sexuality on film and effectively launched the Catholic Legion of Decency into action, putting an end to the pre-production code era. 

Hopkins showed America a new kind of woman, unlike any other seen in Hollywood. She portrayed connivers and schemers and cold-hearted Hannahs with a brassy playfulness that made her irresistible. You knew she was bad, but man was she good at it! 

Some of her most popular films of the 1930s were Dancers in the Dark ( with George Raft ), Two Kinds of Women, Becky Sharp ( the very first three-strip Technicolor feature film ), and the bowdlerized version of Lillian Hellman's scandalous play The Children's Hour - These Three ( 1936 ).


Off-screen Miriam Hopkins had very few actor friends, instead surrounding herself with a company of intellectuals, hobnobbing with - and bedding - many men of the literary set. Some of her closet companions were Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ward Morehouse and Tennessee Williams. 

Hopkins was known for being very fussy when it came to selecting scripts and wanting final script approval. Although she was an actress highly in demand by many of the studios and a number of directors, her hen-picking of the scripts stirred up the studio heads to boiling point in frustration. In the four short years that she was with Paramount studios her contract was adjusted three times to suit her demands. RKO wanted her to sign with them after her contract expired, but she chose to go with Samuel Goldwyn instead. RKO needn't have fussed over her, for her temperament at Goldwyn led her to being loaned out many times and they managed to snag Hopkins for four films. While at Goldwyn she was also under contract to Warner Brothers ( for three films ) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It's no surprise that she earned the nickname "Hoppy".

Her flitting ways proved to be her downfall on many an occasion, especially when some of the film projects she was offered turned out to become hits for other actresses. The Song of Songs ( Marlene Dietrich, 1933 ), It Happened One Night ( Claudette Colbert, 1934 ), Twentieth Century ( Carole Lombard, 1934 ), Peter Ibbetson ( Ann Harding, 1935 ), and To Have and Have Not ( Lombard, 1942 ) were all parts that she had declined. 

In some situations Hopkins just got the short end of the stick. In 1938 the country was abuzz with rumors as to who would play Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Hopkins auditioned for the role, having an advantage over all the other applicants by being a native born Georgian, but eventually lost the part to Vivien Leigh. This was a sore disappointment to her and to many "Gone With the Wind" fans across America. Just as Clark Gable was America's choice for the part of Rhett Butler, Hopkins was the overwhelming choice in the popular polls for Scarlett. Even Margaret Mitchell herself declared, 

" Miriam Hopkins had been my choice from the beginning, but I [knew] what I had to say wouldn't matter so I said nothing ". 

While Miriam Hopkins was filming The Old Maid ( 1939 ) opposite Bette Davis, she was married to director Anatole Litvak, her third of four husbands. Litvak had directed Davis in The Sisters a year prior and Miriam had suspected that the two had had an affair. In the meantime, Warner Brothers had purchased the story rights to All This and Heaven Too as a vehicle for their leading lady, Ms. Bette Davis. For some reason, Bette turned the project down and so Warners offered it to Hopkins, who had signed a three picture deal with the studio. She was delighted to do the film, but first had to settle her divorce with Litvak ( she wouldn't stand for an adulterous husband of course! ). This meant six weeks in Reno. Alas, while the divorce papers were being finalized, Warners changed their mind about All This and Heaven Too, thinking that the European market would be very bad at the moment with Hitler invading. As a condolence they offered Hopkins Virginia City ( 1940 ) co-starring Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott and then threw her a looper, picking up the All This and Heaven Too project but giving the part this time to Bette Davis. 

Bouts with Bette 

These days Miriam Hopkins is best remembered for the films that she made with Bette Davis, her arch nemesis, and the "Hatfield and McCoy" feud that the two engaged in off-screen. The screen divas couldn't stand the sight of each other and Davis was said to have "thoroughly enjoyed" throttling Hopkins in Old Acquaintance

Miriam Hopkins truly did have enemies in Hollywood, especially among her co-stars, but being the southern belle that she was, never publicly dissed them. On the other hand, Davis, who was asked during an interview on a morning news program whom she had difficulty working with, bluntly sputtered "Miriam Hopkins was a bitch!"

Their feud most likely began in the late 1930s, when Warner Brothers cast Bette Davis in the lead role of Jezebel, a role which Miriam Hopkins had made famous on stage. Her ego was deeply damaged and she thrashed the library in her New York home when she heard on the radio that Davis had won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her part of Julie Marsden.

Audiences adored seeing these two temptresses lock horns and the box-office receipts for The Old Maid inspired Warner Brothers to team up Hopkins and Davis once again for Old Acquaintance, a particularly juicy piece of pulp fiction, ripe with catty scenes. 

The Later Years

During the 1940s, Hopkins focused her talents towards the stage - her true love - and appeared in the comedy The Skin of our Teeth, and the dramatic The Perfect Marriage and Message for Margaret ( 1947 ). She also kept active on radio, performing in The Campbell Playhouse, Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense and Inner Sanctum before she returned to the screen in a supporting role in William Wyler's The Heiress. 

Although the days of being a glamorous leading lady were past, Hopkins did not seem to mind at all, instead focusing her energies on giving stellar performances in character roles, some of which included that of the aging hooker in The Outcasts of Poker Flat ( 1952 ) and the deliciously diabolical role of Laurence Olivier's wife in Carrie that same year. Hopkins was also one of the first major actresses to embrace the fledgling medium of television, appearing in Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Lux Video Theater, Studio One, and Climax. Television permitted her to perform a wide variety of characters which she had not tackled on stage or in film. One of these roles was that of Norma Desmond in the 1955 Lux Video broadcast of Sunset Boulevard

During the 1960s she performed in a handful of films, notably in the remake of The Children's Hour ( 1961 ) starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Ironically, one of her last television appearances was that of an aging forgotten film star in "Don't Open Till Doomsday", an especially memorable episode of The Outer Limits. 

Hopkins passed away on October 9, 1972, just nine days shy of her 70th birthday. She was a sophisticated and immensely talented actress who deserves to have a much more exalted position in the Pantheon of classic stars, if only to introduce her to new audiences. Among the appreciative she is not forgotten and never will be. Let's raise a glass in toast to Miriam Hopkins, her incomparable appeal, and all the glory she basked in during her prime.

This post is our contribution to the Forgotten Film Stars blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click here to read more about all of you favorite forgotten film stars...don't forget now!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Faces of Jack Pierce

Jack Pierce himself only had one face, one which wasn't particularly liked in Hollywood, but - as a makeup artist - Pierce created many faces. So many that the few we will highlight in this post will only scratch the grease-painted surface of this man's talent. 

These days Pierce is best remembered for his work in the creation of the "look" of the Universal monsters with the exception of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It is for this work that he - posthumously - earned a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Make-Up Artist and Hairstyle Guild. 

Jack Pierce was born in Greece in 1889 ( he was christened Janus Piccoulas by birth ) and came to America with his parents in the early 1900s. He started in the film industry working as a projectionist and then a stuntman before becoming an actor. Between 1915 and 1925 he played in twelve different films, usually being cast as a villain.

Pierce often applied his own makeup while being an actor and he enjoyed creating different effects to detract from his shortness ( he was 5' 5" ). He got his first chance at applying makeup to other actors when he stepped in to transform actor Jacques Lernier into a speaking simian for his role in Raoul Walsh's The Monkey Talks ( 1926 ). This work was observed by Carl Laemmle who hired him full-time at Universal, where one of his very first assignments was applying the makeup for Conrad Viedt in The Man Who Laughs ( 1928 ). 

In 1930, Pierce was assigned to work on Dracula and created a special color greasepaint for the sanguinary count, portrayed by Bela Lugosi. However, Lugosi had always applied his own makeup ( a common practice for stage actors ) and so he refused to let Jack Pierce do his makeup. Lugosi reflected later that Pierce got his revenge on him when he designed such torturous makeup as Ygor and the Frankenstein for him to wear. 

The 1930s 

Frankenstein ( 1931 )

It was during the 1930s that Pierce rose to fame beginning with his work on The Monster in Carl Laemle Jr.'s FrankentsteinMary Shelley wasn't all too specific about the Monster's appearance in her 1818 novel, and so Pierce let his imagination run free and decided to give the pastiched character a flat-topped head with very heavy eyelids. A nice sleepy look. Unfortunately for Karloff, the makeup application was a six hour process involving the attachment of a skullpiece for the black hair, then a layer of cotton and spirit gum for the forehead, followed by a glob of specially designed putty around the eyes, a nice dirty scar, some electrifying bolts, and a topping of green-grey greasepaint. Karloff personally contributed the sunken cheekbones by having a dental bridge removed. 

Murders in the Rue Morgue ( 1932 )

This juicy horror flick gave Pierce a chance to paint Bela Lugosi an entirely different face. The bushy eyebrows of the Count can be seen again, but now they are connected with a bridge of hair, making Dr. Mirakle look like he has one giant eyebrow. 

White Zombie ( 1932 ) 

Once again Bela got to sit in the makeup chair, with Jack Pierce transforming him this time into the devilish voodoo master, Murder Legendre. With curling beard strands, heavy dark eyebrows and a very low widow's peak, Murder was a character guaranteed to frighten women and children out of the theatres. 

The Mummy ( 1932 ) 

Karloff thought the Monster was an elaborate makeup process, but The Mummy offered him a chance to really test his patience. It was complete head-to-toe makeup application. The wrappings of the mummy were treated with flames and acid to age it properly then dipped in collodion ( a strong smelling liquid plastic ) and stretched over Boris Karloff's face. Pierce applied Fuller's Earth over the wrappings after it was dried to give it an "arid" look. Check out this great article on the mummifying process, originally printed in Mechanix magazine. 

The Invisible Man ( 1933 ) 

There really wasn't much monster makeup involved in The Invisible Man, but the coloring applied to all of the supporting players really enhanced the look of the film. This scene doesn't display any of Pierce's skill, just Una O'Connor's facial expression was so good we had to include it. 

The Bride of Frankenstein ( 1935 ) 

One of the reasons that Jack Pierce was not very much loved in the Hollywood circle was because he was such a demanding make-up artist. Film Historian Greg Mank interviewed Elsa Lanchester at one time and this is what she had to say about the Bride's makeup process, " [Pierce] took ages to make a scar that hardly shows under my chin. For a whole hour he would draw two lines of glue, put a red line down the middle, then start making up the white edges of the scar - meticulously done. Well, frankly, I'm sure he could have bought such a scar for ten cents in a joke shop.....After the scar came the eyebrows, and the hair. It's my own hair. I had it lifted up from my face, all the way around; then they placed a cage on my head and combed my own hair over that cage. Then they put the gray-streak hairpieces in afterwards."

The Werewolf of London ( 1935 ) 

This was the first of the Universal "wolf man" films, even though it often gets overlooked in favor of the Lon Chaney version. Henry Hull, who was cast in the title role, objected to Pierce's original concept of how Wolfie should look, claiming that it obscured his features. The final design pleased both Pierce and Hull even though it left barely a resemblance to the actor.

In addition to all of these monster classics, Jack Pierce was kept busy working as the makeup artist for Great Expectations ( 1934 ), Diamond Jim ( 1935 ), Magnificent Obsession ( 1935 ), Show Boat ( 1936 ), and Three Smart Girls ( 1936 ), to name a few. 

The 1940s 

The 1940s was Pierce's busiest decade and he worked on all of the Mummy sequels ( regardless of Chaney's personal dislike for him ), the Frankenstein sequels, and the Dracula sequels. He also created some menacing new faces in films like Man Made Monster ( 1941 ) The Phantom of the Opera ( 1943 ), The Mad Ghoul ( 1943 ) and Cobra Woman ( 1944 ).

The Wolf Man ( 1941 ) 

For Universal's second venture into lycanthrope land, Pierce created an entirely different look for the "wolf man", adding much more hair around the cheekbones and a bushy head of hair. Chaney reportedly hated working with Pierce due to the tedious transformation process he made him undergo, which included having yak hair glued to his face. 

The Scarlet Claw ( 1944 )

This film was the eighth entry in the popular Universal Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The detective duo set out to the backwoods of Canada to capture a criminal who was once a former actor ( and a makeup artist himself ) and this fellow uses his skill to create different identities for himself, one of which is a fleeting glowing shadow in the marshland. Holmes got to try out some disguises himself and in this scene he is seeing if Watson can recognize him as a messenger. We can't even recognize him as being Rathbone.

In addition to working on The Scarlet Claw, Pierce also designed the makeup for four other Sherlock Holmes films. By the mid-1940s however, mystery and horror films were beginning to wane with the public taste. Pierce found himself doing the work of an everyday Hollywood makeup artist and applying cakes of powder and rouge to celebrities such as Deanna Durbin ( Because of Him, I'll Be Yours ), Susan Hayward ( Canyon Passage, Smash Up: The Story of a Woman ) and Abbott and Costello ( Little Giant and The Time of Their Lives ).

The 1940s brought about unwanted change for a traditionalist like Jack Pierce. Younger makeup artists were dropping the "out of the kit" techniques in favor of the quicker and more comfortable latex forms. Studio heads at Universal were in favor of these techniques because they saved time and cost during the making of a film. Pierce held on to his style and was eventually let go from Universal in 1946. 

Jack Pierce turned to doing television work in the early 1950s and when budget monster classics became the rage in the latter years of the decade he once again took to creating monsters. Some of these included the Beast ( Beauty and the Beast ), The Amazing Transparent Man, and burly conquistador in The Giant from the Unknown. His final work was on Mister Ed, where he was the show's regular makeup artist.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jane Wyatt: Lovely Inside and Out

Jane Wyatt was a true lady in every sense of the word. Though she gained stardom on stage, screen, and television, she is, in my opinion, overlooked by modern viewers and therefore my choice of a forgotten movie star.

Miss Wyatt was born on August 12, 1910 in Mahwah, New Jersey to a well-respected Wall Street investment broker and a drama critic who wrote for the publication "Catholic World". Her background was quite illustrious. Her mother's family, the Van Renssalaer's, had settled in the early American colonies and owned much of what would become New York City. For this reason, the state of New York named Renssalaer County in their honor.

A young Jane attended the elite Chapin School and became a student at Barnard College before she joined the Berkshire Playhouse for a short and productive season. She exercised her budding acting muscles playing an assortment of fascinating characters. Her time at the playhouse proved to be a very wise career move because it opened the door to Broadway. She graced the celebrated stage in a string of plays such as: "Give Me Yesterday", "Dinner at  Eight", and "Conquest" and she soon became an understudy to actress Rose Hobart during the production of "Trade Winds".

Jane's success on Broadway brought her a contract with Universal Pictures and the studio soon had her working on a selection of neat films starting with One More River ( 1934 ) and as Pip's beloved Estella in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.

It was during this busy decade in Jane's life that she married Mr. Edgar Bethune Ward, an investment broker whom she met in the late 1920's when they were both houseguests at Hyde Park, the home of her distant cousin Eleanor and her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Two years later, Jane earned the coveted role of Sondra in Columbia Pictures's big budget production of James Hilton's novel The Lost Horizon alongside the dashing Ronald Colman. The film featured magnificent set design and splendid cinematography and its 1937 release came at a most trying time in world history. As the threat of war loomed throughout Europe, here was a film which spoke of global peace and hope. If only this film's message could have been taken to heart sooner thereby preventing the sorrows which millions of people would soon feel.

Jane's portrayal in Lost Horizon lifted her career to new heights and she found ample work on stage in "Save Me the Waltz"and "Night Music" and at RKO in Army Surgeon and as Aggie Hunter in the sad drama None but the Lonely Heart with Cary Grant. Two films which stand out in Jane's career include her role as Madge Harvey in Elia Kazan's 1947 triumph Boomerang! and in Gentleman's Agreement, both of which she made for 20th Century Fox.

It was during this time that actor Robert Young ( a favorite star of mine ) and his business partner Eugene Rodney were paving the way for a television show based on Young's much loved NBC radio show "Father Knows Best" which had debuted in 1949 and starred Young and Jean Vander Pyl ( who would go on to voice Wilma Flintstone on "The Flintstones". )

When Young secured a Sunday night time slot with CBS, he and Mr. Rodney decided to sign on a new female lead to play Margaret Anderson. Within a short time, they mutually agreed to cast Jane Wyatt, who not only fit the role perfectly but had previous experience on radio as well.

Surprisingly, Jane didn't immediately jump at the offer but after she agreed to join the cast in 1954 and had played in the first few episodes, CBS hastily pulled the plug on the show when the network became disappointed with its early ratings. CBS soon found their mail room flooded with letters from viewers who asked that the show be put back on television despite the studio executives's initial misgivings. So to calm these stormy seas, NBC proposed to take "Father Knows Best" off CBS's hands and aired it on Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m. and it became one of America's favorite family sitcoms.

Jim and Margaret Anderson were the ideal couple who made every effort to help their children: Betty ( Elinor Donahue ), Robby "Bud" ( Billy Gray ), and Kathy ( Lauren Chapin ) become good Christians. Jane is lovely as Margaret and she earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series three years in a row. Despite her busy work schedule, Jane became a spokeswoman for "All" detergent and appeared as a guest star on several television dramas as well as a guest, alongside Robert Young, on the hit game show "What's My Line?"

Jane's popularity earned her a golden star on Hollywood's famous Walk of Fame and after "Father Knows Best" ended after its seven season run in 1960, she spread her wings and played on numerous much- loved shows throughout the 1960's and 1970's like: "The Virginian", "Wagon Train", "Star Trek", "Fantasy Island", and "Love Boat". She had a co-starring role in the 1965 Warner Brothers comedy Never Too Late about a married couple ( Paul Ford and Maureen O'Sullivan ) who get the surprise of their lives when, despite their advanced age, they find out they're going to have a baby.

Jane also had a brief but, nonetheless, important role as Johnny Doran's kindly Aunt Effie in Walt Disney's 1976 adventure Treasure of Matecumbe. It is a little known film but definitely worth seeing about a young boy and his close friend who search for riches left to him by his father in the dangerous swamps of the Florida Keys in the late 1800's.

The following year, the cast of "Father Knows Best" was reunited in a TV movie in which Margaret yearns to see her grown children who now live in different parts of the country and are raising families of their own. Complications arise when widowed Betty rekindles a romance with her former college beau and Bud admits to having marriage troubles with his wife. Thankfully, Dad and Mom are close at hand to help guide their children into the right direction.

Though Jane was now in her seventies, the 1980's proved to be a fruitful decade for her with roles on "Hotel","Baby Boom", "St. Elsewhere", and a reprisal as Spock's human mother Amanda in 1986's "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home". Her role in "Star Trek" and on "Father Knows Best" have became her signature parts, cementing her image of the perfect mother in the hearts of fans around the world.

When the 1990's rolled in, Miss Wyatt chose to step away from the camera and retired to her California home, spending her quality time with her children and grandchildren. She passed away peacefully on October 20, 2006 at the age of ninety-six.

I admire Miss Wyatt for her cheerful disposition, strong work ethic, and good morals. She was married only once, bore four beautiful children, was a tireless worker for the March of Dimes and was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

It is a shame that she doesn't receive more attention for her immense talent and goodness of heart. I am excited to watch more of her films and television performances in the near future. Though she may be forgotten by some, she is remembered and loved by many classic film fans, one of which is myself.

By Diana Metzinger

This post is our contribution to the Forgetton Stars Blogathon, being hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. To read more articles about forgotten Hollywood stars, click here

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nanny and the Professor ( 1970-1971 )

"Is it magic or is it love?"

Is Nanny's influence over the Everett household purely magic, or love? This is the question posed to the audience in the titular song of the opening credits of each episode of Nanny and the Professor. After a brief viewing, it's easy to answer that question. Nanny's "powers" of magic rarely extend beyond a few bursts of ESP - answering the doorbell and telephone before it rings, anticipating someones thoughts or desires, and knowing the names of strangers before being introduced - but her power of love goes a great deal beyond that. 

Nanny and the Professor was a half-hour television series that debuted on January 21, 1970 as a mid-season replacement for The Flying Nun. It enjoyed a very successful debut and was picked up as a full season series...which ran until it was most regrettably cancelled midway through its third season. The show focused on the daily trials and tribulations of a suburban widower, Professor Harold Everett ( Richard Long ) and his three spunky children - scientific Hal ( age 12 ), playful Butch ( age 8 ) and little Prudence ( age 4 ). Most of their trials were minor and all of their tribulations were resolved by the resourcefulness and abstractly level-headed thinking of their beloved housekeeper/governess/cook/pet caretaker : Phoebe Figalilly, better known as Nanny ( Juliet Mills ). 

This "wise and wonderful" woman arrived unannounced one day declaring herself the new nanny that Harold Everett didn't request. As a college professor, Everett did not have much time to spend keeping his children in line and a succession of incidents and the household menagerie of animals ( the pet guinea pigs, Waldo the sheepdog, and Sebastian the rooster ) drove away the last four nannies. Miss Figalilly arrived at the opportune moment to set the household in order and step in as a surrogate mother to the youngsters. 

Nanny always knew her priorities and would never let her charges sway from what was right or wrong or most important in life. Namely, the values of honesty, truth, and goodness of heart. Hardly the qualities possessed by a witch, which is what some near-sighted neighbors almost considered her to be. Nanny was just a woman wise beyond her years with an upstanding character that undoubtedly stemmed from her fine upbringing and the sage advice passed down to her from her innumerable relatives. 

Like a rudder, she steered the family through safe waters and always guided their way with patience understanding....all without them being aware of her influence. Well, until her fiancee Cholmondeley Featherstonehaugh ( pronounced "Chumley Fenshaw" ) arrived on their doorstop to whisk her away in holy matrimony. Then they realized just how good a nanny they had and her importance to the family. 

Whether she was helping to preserve an old tree from being chopped down, or making a teacher realize what it is he wants in life, or befriending a lonely hobo, Nanny trotted around in her Inverness cape and hat, setting the neighborhood problems aright. 

In addition to foretelling the future, Nanny enjoyed chatting with Waldo, the family dog and sputtering around in her 1930 Model A roadster, lovingly nicknamed "Arabella" in honor of a favorite aunt. Whenever a fortuitous event occurred to benefit one of the members of the family, Professor Everett suspected Nanny had a hand in making it happen and more often than not, he was right...but he just never could prove anything. Crafty gal she was. A tinkle-tinkle of a chime let the audience know when Nanny's "magic" was at work. 

Nanny and the Professor was the brain-child of screenwriter and playwright, AJ Carothers, who was best known for penning four Walt Disney films in the 1960s ( including The Happiest Millionaire ). Its premise was clearly inspired by Mary Poppins ( 1965 ), one of Walt Disney's greatest successes at the time. Producer David Gelber arranged to have a pilot film made with Juliet Mills in 1968, but it turned out to be a fantastic flop. Eight months later she was called back to film another pilot, this time with an entire new cast and it came out much better, with ABC putting it on the shelf to bide its chance to air.

"I've been in the business long enough to know failures and disappointments", Mills remarked at the time, "so when I heard we were going in as a mid-season replacement, I just counted on 14 weeks of work [in Hollywood]"*. But not surprisingly, the show became a success and those weeks turned into three seasons.

When Nanny and the Professor was originally aired it was sandwiched between The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family during ABC's Friday night line-up. Amusing as those two sugar-pop confections were, Nanny and the Professor offered much more nourishing entertainment. In each episode Nanny delivered one particularly poignant phrase which summarized a valuable lesson to be learned. Like Aesop's fables these episodes scattered seeds of wisdom to the listeners while providing an entertaining scenario to make it appetizing for children. 

In the same format as Family Affair, its story-lines often featured parallels between the children and the main adult character, drawing in both youngsters and their parents and featured a number of fine guest stars that adults could familiarize with. Most of these guest stars portrayed relatives of Phoebe or Harold. They included Elsa Lanchester as Aunt Henrietta, Ida Lupino as Aunt Justine, Margarie Bennett as Aunt Agatha, Ray Bolger as Uncle Horace, John Mills as Uncle Alfred, Robert Sterling as Harold's brother Benjamin, and Van Johnson as his brother Robert. There was also a pleasant appearance in one episode by Lee Merriwether as Harold's former girlfriend.

Nanny and the Professor displayed the requisite bold and brightly colored opening of the 1970s, with an animated rainbow taking center stage. The shows catchy theme song was written and performed by the Addrissi brothers, a semi-popular group of the era. "You can make the impossible happen, Nanny told us. Have a little bit of faith and lots of love"......lyrics like these summarized the theme of the series.

When Nanny and the Professor was moved to Monday nights, it faced competition from Gunsmoke and its rating went down, eventually leading to the series being cancelled altogether. In 1972, the cast reunited for two animated cartoons which aired on ABC Saturday Night Movie, one of which was Nanny and the Professor and the Phantom of the Circus which had Pheobe playing a sleuth and solving a mystery at her Aunt Henrietta's traveling circus.


Richard Long ( Professor Harold Everett ) - Long had a long career before becoming the head of a family of youngsters. He started in 1946 in the film, Tomorrow is Forever starring Claudette Colbert. After a number of juvenile leads, he trotted into westerns and found a niche, before hitting it really big on television with Bourbon Street Beat ( 1959 ). After guest starring in a number of other television series he landed the role of Jerrod Barkley in The Big Valley, directing a few episodes as well. Long died of a heart-attack in 1974, just one year after Nanny ended. 

Juliet Mills ( Phoebe Figalilly ) - the lovely Juliet stemmed from a great acting family which included papa Sir John Mills, and baby sister Hayley Mills. Juliet, the lily blossom of the bouquet, got her start as a child actress appearing in her father's picture In Which We Serve as an 11-month year old baby. In 1958 she got her first starring role on stage in Five Finger Exercise and was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. Although she made a number of films ( notably The Rare Breed ), she found her place in television and enjoyed great success in the 1960s in guest starring roles before she was cast as Miss Figalilly. During the 1970s she appeared in the Emmy award winning miniseries QB VII and had a recurring role on NBC's Born Free. Today she continues to keep busy on television ( From Here on OUT ) and appears on stage periodically. 

David Doremus ( Hal Everett ) -  Doremus was thirteen years old when he landed the role of Hal on Nanny and the Professor. He had performed in a few television commercials before trying out for the part, even though his real aspiration was to become a dentist. After the series ended, he appeared on The Waltons as George Haines, boyfriend of Mary Ellen Walton. Doremus retired from acting in the early 1980s and today is a businessman working in the mobile electronics industry. He is the father of four children. 

Trent Lehman ( Bentley "Butch" Everett ) - Lehman appeared in a few roles on television ( Gunsmoke, The Christine Jorgenson Story ) before being cast as Butch in Nanny and the Professor at the age of nine. After the show he headed home to Colorado to get a job near his family. His girlfriend convinced him to move back to California but once there a series of setbacks led to despondency and Lehmen committed suicide in 1982, at the young age of 20. 

Kim Richards ( Prudence Everett ) - Richards followed in the footsteps of her older sister ( Kathy Hilton ) and entered the acting industry at the age of six. After Nanny and the Professor went off the air, the Walt Disney Studios snatched Richards away and plopped her in a series of juvenile live-action features including Escape to Witch Mountain, The Whiz Kid series, and No Deposit, No Return. During the late 1970s she guest-starred on just about every television show and also appeared as a regular on James at 15/16 and Hello Larry. Currently she is popular playing herself on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She is the aunt of Paris and Nikki Hilton.


The Scientific Approach ( S1 - Ep4 )

The Professor invites a lady psychologist home to dinner and finds that she does not react well to Nanny's flights of fancy.

The Astronomers ( S1-Ep5 )

With his dad's old telescope, Butch makes an astronomical discovery that shakes the scientific world.

An Element of Risk ( S1-Ep12 )

Prudence is heartbroken when her favorite balloon gets busted and decides she does not want to blow up the new one for fear that it too will be destroyed. Meanwhile, the Professor finds he does not want to meet his old highschool sweetheart, because he rather remember the good days then face the change.

Back to Nature ( S2-Ep5 )

Professor Everett, the children and Nanny head off to the woods to enjoy a weekend camping.

One for the Road ( S3-EP13 )

Hal convinces his dad that he is responsible enough to take his first solo bus trip to visit his uncle, but he discovers he may not be responsible enough to get beyond the bus depot. 


Like most television shows of the 1970s, Nanny and the Professor had a plethora of great merchandise released in conjunction with the show. Most of these items were geared towards youngsters and included colorform sets, coloring books, comic books, paper dolls and Viewmaster reels. 

A lunchbox with Nanny and the gang couldn't be found, and - pooh! - there were no Nanny Barbie dolls either. However, as consolation for those who wished the series continued, William Johnston penned three paperback chapter books featuring the Everett family and Nanny. These were released by Lancer books in 1970. 

* The Milwaukee Journal, March 14, 1971.