Thursday, July 30, 2009

La Marr and Cregar celebrations

I wonder if London still looks like this?
Oh, those dandy 19th century people.
Or should I quote Tracy Lords in The Philadelphia Story (1940):

"English history has always fascinated me. Robin Hood, Cromwell, Jack the Ripper..."

Before I head off on a romantic holiday in the foggy London streets, I serve you a meaty post to enjoy yourselves with while I'm away.

I know that I originally said that we were going to Paris, but when it was time to order tickets we realized that a flight to Paris would cost us half a years of my boyfriend's salary and both our souls. Since I haven't had any soul for quite a few years, we simply couldn't make it. At least I got a drink tip from my mother (she spent some years in London in the crazy 1980's, listening to Bob Marley and flirting with bikers) - Snake Bite with sweet apple cider. But only half a pint - a mother can't let her daughter be intoxicated.

So here it is! (I'll be back on Sunday.)

July 28th was the birthday of two underestimated (or at least more or less forgotten) actors, with not too much in common - Barbara La Marr and Laird Cregar. The only connection between them is probably their too early deaths at ages 29 and 30 years of age.

I intend to compose some brief portraits of the actors, since it was ages since I did one of those. (Well, at least almost two months since the Lotte Reiniger portrait in early June.)

Barbara La Marr (1896-1926)

"I like my men like I like my roses - by the dozen."

Barbara La Marr was born Reatha (a name she loathed) Dale Watson in the town of Yakima, Washington in July 28th, 1896. Her mother was previously married and had two children in that marriage, and the father was an editor for a newspaper.

La Marr's up and coming late-night party life was seen at the horizon when she at 14 years of age was arrested for burlesque dancing. At 16 she had earned herself a full-blown scandalous reputation, some of it because of her modeling nude for several local artists. During one of many scandals she adopted the name of Barbara La Marr to avoid inconvenience. Finally she got rid of the hated name of Reatha.

Being famous for her beautiful physique (a judge supposedly once said to her that she was "too beautiful to be alone in a big city"), La Marr made her way to Hollywood to become a script writer. Through her job connections there, she soon took the leap to the other side of the film camera, debuting in 1920. In 1921 she appeared in a film called The Nut, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Marguerite De La Motte.

La Marr's most important film is probably The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), an adventure film with La Marr as the villain's mistress Antoinette de Mauban. The leading man is Lewis Stone playing double parts as Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolf. Also starring in the film is Alice Terry and Ramon Novarro.

Barbara La Marr in the arms of Ramon Novarro in Thy Name is Woman (1924).

La Marr lived a wild life in Hollywood's flapper age. She said that she never slept more than two hours a night, since life was too short to sleep away. One can wonder if she knew how short her life in actuality would be.

After an affair with John Gilbert (her co-star in the 1922 film Arabian Love, but mostly known for his on- and off relationship with Swedish movie queen Greta Garbo), her contract with Metro was determinated. She moved to New York, where her party life of drugs and alcohole (and some pneumonia) took her life, only 29 years old. La Marr's death is said to be one of Hollywood's first drug-related deaths.

La Marr was married no less than five times during her short life - none of the marriages lasting more than three years (the shortest being her 1914 marriage, being annulled after only a few days.)

After La Marr's death, it was revealed that she once had had an illegitimate son with a man (who's identity is still unknown). That child was adopted by La Marr's good friend Zasu Pitts and her husband.

Trivia: Actress Hedy LaMarr was named after Barbara La Marr, a choice made by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer.

Laird Cregar (1914-1944)

"All my life I've had black little moods."
As George Harvey Bone
in Hangover Square (1945)

Samuel Laird Cregar was born 28th July, 1914 (although some sources say 1913, 1915 or 1916 - his tombstone says 1914) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of six sons, his father being a cricketer and a member of the team Gentlemen of Philadelphia.

At the age of eight, Cregar was sent to England to join the Winchester Academy. He eventually found work as a page boy and bit player with the Stratford-upon-Avon theatrical troupe. He then set his mind on becoming a serious actor.

Cregar returned to America, and forced Hollywood to recognize him by arranging his own one-man show playing Oscar Wilde. He soon found work in Hollywood, and made his on-screen break in the history/adventure film Hudson's Bay (1941) opposite Paul Muni and Gene Tierney, playing a part with the flattering name of Gooseberry.

Throughout his film career Cregar had quite a girth, and often used to play suave villains much older than he himself was. Notable parts are the supposedly homosexual columnist Natalio Curro in the matador film Blood and Sand (1941), a psychopathic detectivei n I Wake Up Screaming (1941), a con-artist together with Gene Tierney once again in the screwball comedy Rings on Her Fingers (1942) and Jack the Ripper in The Lodger (1944).

Quite a broad resume - the public loved his sincere over-the-top acting and colorful villains - but there was one problem. When Cregar lost the part of Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), because the director thought that the public instantaniously would know that the character would på the villain if Cregar got the part, it was a wake-up call for him. Afraid of being type-cast, Cregar decided to do something to change his career.

Being a promising actor as he was, but not given the opportunity to develop, Cregar got the devastating idea of loosing some weight to be able to play leading men. He obviously had attractive facial features (co-actress Merle Oberon encouraged him, and told him that he could be a romantic on-screen hero), but his weight stood in his way for more varying roles. Cregar changed his diet, and went from weighing 300 pounds (132 kg) to 200 pounds (88 kg). The result is to be seen in the dark, magical thriller Hangover Square (1945, review here) opposite Linda Darnell (my post on her here). In the film he plays a despicable composer, who black-outswhen he hears dissonance. Soon he suspects that he might have commited murder during his blackouts.

In his last role Cregar proved that he was an actor to count with. Tragically enough, that was the last example of his brilliant acting the motion picture audience got to see - Cregar's body couldn't handle his crash diet, and he was forced to undergo surgery for severe stomach disorder. His heart gave up on December 9th, 1944, days after the surgery. He didn't live to see himself finally getting the top billing, in Hangover Square.

Trivia: Laird Cregar was homosexual, something that wasn't too accepted in the 1940's. The man he lost the role of Waldo Lydecker to, Clifton Webb, was also homosexual.

Here's a compilation of some of Laird Cregar's on-screen characters. I made it in quite a haste, so I'm sorry if it's not a 100 %. (And I really should have included I Wake Up Screaming.)
Anyway - I felt that YouTube needed a little more Cregar, so maybe it makes someone happy.

Ta-taa for now, kittens!


Juliette. said...

Marvelous-- thanks for all the pictures of Barbara. She's been one of my favorite personalities (I can't very well say actresses, as I've not seen her in much, haha) for some time now, and it's always cool to read about her. :)

As for Laird, last week I wouldn't have known him from Adam (well, I coulda probably figured the one with the fig leaf was, oh you know..), but my newfound Linda Darnell obsession prompted me to buy and watch Hangover Square, which turned me on to him as well. So thanks again.

Meredith said...

have a lovely time on your trip! i shall be following not far behind you. :)

and that's so sad about cregar. =( the things people have to do for appearances.

Steve said...

Hangover Square is a great film. The Lodger isn't as well conceived (I know it's a remake) but Laird does a good job.

At least Laird's early demise left the perfect niche for Vincent Price to fill.

Christopher said...

have a great time in London..beware the tap of the constables stick.."'ere 'ere now..move along move along..

Kate Gabrielle said...

That is so said about Laird! I didn't know he died so young. Boy he was creepy in The Lodger!!

Have fun in London! Take some pictures!! :D

Matthew Coniam said...

I have to warn you that things have changed around here since that picture... just a little...
but you probably won't notice after a few snake bites.
I'll keep a look out for you!

Aitch said...

Laird Cregar is FAB in "I Wake Up Screaming," a little known Noir co-starring the equally tragic Carole Landis.
When Otto Preminger signed on as director of Laura, he did not want Cregar in the key role of Waldo Lydecker, and lobbied producer Daryl Zanuck to allow him to cast his first choice: actor Clifton Webb.

D H said...

A great Actor