Edward G. Robinson

Robinson Bogart Brother Orchid

Birth Name: Emmanuel Goldenberg

Date of Birth: December 12, 1893

Date of Death: January 26, 1973

Number of films Edward G. Robinson made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

To be completely honest – I didn’t really like Edward G. Robinson before I started this blog. I knew very little about him. I’d only seen one of his five Bogart collaborations with Key Largo. I’d seen so many bad impressions, parodies, and caricatures of the man that I really only knew him as the poster boy for a 1930’s gangster joke!

Now, though? I’ve seen all of his Bogart collaborations and many of his non-Bogart films and he blows my mind with the way that he can play subtlety despite the fact that he was so gifted at being over-the-top. If anyone can give Bogart a run for his money in the ‘Not-Necessarily-Handsome Actor Who Still Made it to Icon Level Status,’ it’s Robinson.

A Romanian immigrant to New York at the age of 10, Robinson jumped into Yiddish Theater at the tender age of 19 before eventually making it to Broadway less than two years later. After that? Hollywood stardom and a permanent legacy as one of Tinsel Town’s toughest bad guys.

One of the best opportunities that I’ve had from writing this blog is that I’ve gotten to know a great guy by the name of “Gonzalo” who runs a site in the same vein to the Bogie Film Blog that’s solely about Edward G. Robinson. Exploring Robinson’s roles film by film, Gonzalo’s site is a fantastic stop for anyone looking for some conversation on classic films and Robinson as an actor. (Fair warning – the site’s in Spanish, so I use Google Translate when I’m there, but very little is lost in the translation! Forgive any translation mishaps!)

Gonzalo was kind enough to chat with me a bit about Robinson, his site, and Robinson’s collaborations with Bogart. (Even though English isn’t Gonzalo’s first language, he was gracious enough to bear with me and my Bogart-obsessed questioning!)

Bogie Film Blog: Gonzalo, what was it that really drove you to create a website devoted to the films of Edward G. Robinson?

Gonzalo: I like to watch his films and [talk] about him, I can’t get enough of his movies and [it doesn’t] matter how many times I watch them, I always have a good time, even if some of them are so-so.

His autobiography is a great book and his life story is very interesting, full of greatness and dificulties. He is a proof that [for] people with talent and conviction, the sky is the limit. We’re talking about somebody who wasn’t handsome – a little guy – but he was one of the most popular, respected, and better paid actors of his time. Most people tend to think about him like “the guy that always played gangsters in movies,” but he was an actor who could play anything and [always be] convincing – in good or evil characters, happy or bitter, intelligent or sucker. I [was already] posting about him and his movies in another blog, but after [I found] your site, I had the idea to devote an entire site to Robinson. Why not?

BFB: Exactly! I love it and feel greatly honored that you decided to go down the same path with the Robinson blog. Maybe we can convince a few other diehard fans to do the same with a few other actors. . .

What’s your favorite Robinson film?

G: It’s very hard to pick a movie, and I may change some options tomorrow, next week, or the next year, but Scarlet Street [has] my favorite Robinson performance. Scarlet Street was the film that made me realize how great his performances [were], [he was]somebody who [went] beyond the screen and reached your soul. I already knew who he was before that, but I wasn’t very into him until I watched that movie on TV. It’s curious, but I know now that one of my grandfathers was also a big Edward G. Robinson fan, so I suppose it’s a family thing.

BFB: If someone isn’t very familiar with Robinson, what would you suggest for a good “gateway” film into his work?

G: That’s a hard one because of the wide variety of his acting skills. Probably I’d change my choice depending [on who was] asking me. [Do they] like gangsters films, thrillers, comedy, or drama? But if I a had to pick just one for everybody [it] would be Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet, a great performance in a very touching movie.

BFB: Out of the five films that Robinson shared with Bogart (Bullets or Ballots, Kid Galahad, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Brother Orchid, and Key Largo) which one would you say is your favorite?

G: Key Largo. I have to say that [for] a time, I didn’t have as much appreciation for it as [I do] now, but a few months ago I watched it one more time and I loved it. Robinson is great in that film, [as] is Bogart, [and] Bacall is beautiful in a very spirited performance. And Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, and the rest of the cast are terrific. The tension is very strong and Huston is in my top 5 film directors of all time. I usually don’t try to analyze a movie technically, but when you don’t care about how much time remains until the end of the movie that’s the sign of a great movie to me, and Key Largo makes you forget about anything else.

BFB: All right, Gonzalo, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take two Robinson films and one other Classic Hollywood film that doesn’t star Robinson with you, which films would you take?

G: Scarlet Street and probably The Whole Town’s Talking for Robinson. In that John Ford movie [The Whole Town’s Talking], we have Robinson as a tough gangster and as a shy and simple guy in a very funny roll. And I’d carry also The Treasure Of Sierra Madre, perhaps the film I have watched [the most] times in my life and I still love it. But [for] some time, [I’ve been] very fond [of] W.C. Fields [and] I’d have to honor him [by] trying to ignore the “three movies only” rule and I’d try to sneak some more [along], like Witness For The Prosecution, To Be Or Not To Be, and It’s A Gift.

BFB: Gonzalo, thanks so much for your time and for the work that you’re doing on the Robinson site! If you want to visit Gonzalo’s blog, head over to his site here!

Now onto…

The Filmography

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

Bogart MacClane Robinson Bullets

Robinson plays Johnny Blake, an undercover cop who’s trying hard to keep his cool in the middle of a dangerous job. Apparently, the ‘Legion of Decency’ and the ‘Production Code Administration’ were starting to give the studios a hard time for glorifying gangsters. The studios’ response was to turn some of their best bad guys (James Cagney, Robinson, etc.) into good guys. The neat little work-around though, was that the good guys didn’t have to necessarily be good. Here, Robinson plays a cop who’s undercover as a bad guy, meaning we still get all the roughhousing and tough guy bravado that we would have had in a gangster role, but occasionally we get to see Robinson whisper into a phone, “Pssst! Yeah, I got’em fooled!” and we know that he’s still on the right side of the law. We also get a close quarters pistol duel between Robinson and Bogart at the end of the film! You can read my original write-up on the film here.

Kid Galahad – 1937

Robinson Bogart Galahad

Robinson plays boxing a promoter, Nick Donati, who stumbles across an unknown fighting phenomenon (Wayne Morris) at a hotel party and sees a chance to make a run for the heavyweight title and a whole lot of money. The only problem? The current champion works for mobster “Turkey” Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), and Morgan is willing to do whatever it takes to win. The film has your standard cookie-cutter Cinderella story, but the cast of Robinson, Bette Davis, Wayne Morris, and Bogart rise above the material to create a very entertaining dramedy. You can read my original write-up on the film here.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

Bogart Robinson Clitterhouse

Robinson plays the unfortunately named Dr. Clitterhouse, a doctor so intrigued by the criminal mind that he decides to become a criminal in order to get some firsthand insight on their mindset and behaviors. The overall film suffers from tonal shifts – I wish they’d played it for a few less laughs – but it still has its moments. Robinson gets great scenes with both Claire Trevor and Bogart, especially their final confrontation together in his office. You can read my original write-up on the film here.

Brother Orchid – 1940

Bogart Robinson Orchid 2

Robinson plays mob boss Johnny Sarto, a gangster who’s had enough crime and violence in his life and is looking for a way out. After dallying with the civilian life however, Sarto decides that he wants his old gang back. The catch? The old gang doesn’t want him back. Seated at the table is Jack Buck, played by Humphrey Bogart, who’s next in line for the boss’ seat – leading to Robinson going on the run and eventually hiding out in a monastery. Robinson’s got some really nice scenes with fellow monk Donald Crisp, but I wish that they’d gone a bit edgier with his character so that the eventual character arc would have been slightly more dramatic. Overall, Ann Southern, Crisp, Bogart, and Robinson are all great and it’s still worth a watch. You can read my original write-up on the film here.

Key Largo – 1948

Bogart Robinson Largo

Robinson plays mobster on the run, Johnny Rocco – a gangster who’s on the verge of losing his confidence. We get to watch Robinson strut, punch, slap, yell, threaten, sweat, quiver, and cower all in just an hour and forty minutes as he begrudgingly deals with his hostages (Bogart, Bacall, and Lionel Barrymore) and his drunk ex-girlfriend (Claire Trevor). On the receding side of his career, this was supposedly a “thank you” role for Robinson after having given Bogart so much time to shine in their earlier collaborations together. Robinson nails it. No matter what’s going right or wrong for Rocco in any given scene, there is an underlying sense of fear present that pervades every word and action on display. You can read my original write-up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an going feature where we highlight some of Bogart’s more prolific collaborators! You can read the rest of the entries here.*
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Down These Mean Streets Again, and Other Podcasting News!

Down Theses Mean Streets Podcast Twitter

This week, though, I would HIGHLY encourage you to head on over to the ‘Down These Mean Streets’ podcast which is a airing a double feature of episodes from Bogie and Bacall’s radio serial Bold Adventure! @MeanStsOTRPod sent me the episodes a week or two ago, and I’ve been listening to them on my travels. I’ve only heard a scant few eps of Bold Adventure, but I’m now salivating to dive in full steam.

In lieu of an extended post on the show before I’ve heard them – I’d encourage you to check out the show itself on the ‘Down These Mean Streets’ podcast. I asked @MeanStsOTRPod to give us all a little intro to the radio serials, and in his own words:

“Though they popped up regularly around the dial during the Golden Age of Radio, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall only starred in one regular series, and it’s hard to think of a project better suited to their screen personas at the time. Bold Venture blended elements of To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, and Casablanca to create a unique series. Not only did it boast the mega-wattage star power of Bogie and Bacall, but it featured a top-notch crew behind the scenes.

“Bogie was ‘Slate’ Shannon, a hotel proprietor with a shady past who also earned money as a charter boat captain. His ship – the “Bold Venture” – gave the show its title. Bacall was “Sailor” Duval, Shannon’s young ward (she was willed to him – the series was never really clear on the circumstances, but I bet that was a heck of a will-reading!). Together, they landed in and out of hot water in Havana. Throw in ‘King Moses,’ a calypso singer who hung out in the hotel and bantered with Slate and Sailor, and it’s easy to see the influence the couple’s films had in shaping Bold Venture.

“The series was developed for the couple by producer Frederick W. Ziv, a pioneer of syndicated programming. He landed Mr. and Mrs. Bogart for a salary of $5,000 a week; this was pricey for the 1950s, but a transcribed series with two of Hollywood’s biggest stars meant Ziv could (and did!) sell the series all across the country. Estimates I’ve read cast Ziv’s profits on the series at almost ten million dollars.

“The Bogarts got 78 episodes in the can before and after their trip abroad to shoot The African Queen. Ziv had an option to sign the couple for three more years, but it was Bogart who walked away. I’ve read it was the combination of offers in the wake of his Oscar win (not to mention his new fatherhood) that led him to throw in the towel. Bogie reportedly said of the show, I got tired of it. I never listened to it, but Betty did. She liked to hear her voice.

“All due respect to Mr. Bogart, but even a quick listen to Bold Venture reveals it to be exciting stuff, particularly if you’re a fan of that classic Bogart-Bacall chemistry.”

You can get the Mean Streets podcast on iTunes here, the Stitcher app here, or visit the tumblr site here. And you can read my previous interview with the podcaster himself here!

And in Other Somewhat Fun News!

I’m in the early stages of being able to announce that The Bogie Film Blog will be making it’s way to the podcast world as well! The details have not been ironed out yet, but the goal is to be up and running by the end of the year! It’s looking promising!

Thanks so much to all of you who have been regular readers and encouragers! Now head over and listen to some Bold Adventure!

Jason

 

Down These Mean Streets Podcast

Down Theses Mean Streets Podcast Twitter

I’m pretty excited to feature another Twitter acquaintance on the blog this week, as this podcaster (whose real name and location have been withheld upon request) has so deviously snuck an all new, almost completely unexplored, hobby into my life.

Until I began to chat with @MeanStsOTRPod on Twitter, old-time radio dramas were something that I’d always heard about, but never really explored. Having spent a few years as a standup comedian, I’d always loved Jack Benny, so I’d heard a number of his old recordings. I also had a wonderful 8 cassette collection of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life radio game show until I literally wore it out.

Then I took a listen to @MeanStsOTRPod‘s post of an old episode of Nero Wolfe starring Bogie Film Blog favorite, Sydney Greenstreet. I knew that big time Hollywood actors from the classic era had done a lot of radio, but I’d never known that it could be this good.

@MeanStsOTRPod‘s influence eventually led to me checking out Bogart’s work in radio, and the subsequent posts on this blog that followed. So without further ado, let me introduce you to the podcaster behind Down These Mean Streets: An Old Time Radio Detective Podcast!

Bogie Film Blog: I have to admit, I really didn’t listen to much classic radio until I found you on Twitter, but now I’m slowly making my way through Bogart’s radio library. How did you start listening to old shows?

Down These Mean Streets: In elementary school, I read a book by Avi called Who Was That Masked Man Anyway? about a boy growing up in the 1940s. I can’t tell you much about the plot today, but what I remember vividly are the recreations of the old time radio shows the main character listened to each night: The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet…and The Shadow. I could not get that idea of an invisible crime fighter out of my head. The timing was perfect because it was the spring of 1994 and the movie version of The Shadow with Alec Baldwin was coming out that summer. I was too young to see it, but my parents bought me the novelization. (Remember those? With eight full pages of color photos from the movie!) I loved it and read it, and read it, and read it. I was the only fifth-grader who longed for the days of fedoras and gun molls.

My parents (thank God for them indulging a very nerdy son) found two collections of Shadow broadcasts (eight episodes each) and gave them to me for my birthday the next year. I remember popping the first cassette into my player and being immediately drawn into the world of the show. The episode was about a serial killer (keep in mind, The Shadow was a kids’ show!) who targeted celebrities and their most famous attributes (scalping a blonde actress, stabbing an opera singer in the throat). This was crazy stuff, but I devoured it, and I listened to those tapes over and over. I could close my eyes and watch the scenes play out; I could see Lamont Cranston fade away into nothing and watch as he terrified crooks with his menacing laugh.

A few years later, for another birthday gift, I received a twenty cassette/sixty show collection of “Old Time Radio’s Greatest Shows.” That was when my eyes (and ears) were truly opened. I heard Jack Benny, Johnny Dollar, Richard Diamond, The Saint, and dozens of others for the first time. At that point, I was off to the races. Today, I’ve built up a collection of a few thousand shows; my main interest is in detective shows, but I’m a big fan of comedies, Westerns, and adventure shows too.

BFB: That’s a pretty amazing collection for a kid to take in. What was it that pushed you from super-fan to podcaster?

DTMS: Two years ago, my best friend and I started a comedy podcast, and he did the heavy lifting in terms of editing the shows. I really wanted to learn how to edit and polish recordings, so I picked up a guidebook for Audacity (free editing tool available online). I wanted to record a demo to work on editing and adding in music cues, and I thought I’d play around with recording some intros to an old time radio show. I knew I could talk about them (if I’m not listening to one of these shows, chances are I’m reading about them), and I could try to match my commentary with the audio of the recording. It didn’t take long for my test to turn into the project itself. I loved researching and learning more about the shows and thought it would be a great way to share this interest of mine that I’ve cherished for most of my life. Once a few episodes went online and I started getting some comments and feedback, I realized I had an opportunity to connect with other old time radio fans and talk about our favorite shows. What started as a test to see if I could use Audacity has turned into a show that has been downloaded in 48 different countries.

I’m having a blast, and it looks like some folks have used the shows to get into old time radio, or at least to explore more of what’s out there. As someone who got into this hobby in the pre-Internet/podcast era, it’s so cool to see how many old time radio fans are out there and it’s encouraging to see people starting to get their feet wet in the world.

BFB: Speaking from my own personal (and often nerdy) experience, it’s an easy world to jump into and enjoy considering how many mainstream actors were participating in it at the time during the Classic Hollywood age. But I’m continually surprised by how many casual fans I’m bumping into on Twitter and in real life. What do you think is the real draw behind the shows?

DTMS: It’s a great question, since old time radio continues to attract new fans of all ages. For most people (myself included), I think radio is that rare dramatic medium where you as the audience member get to build your own casts and sets as you experience the story. Philip Marlowe looks the way you want him to look; you build the shot of his car tooling through the Hollywood hills. Even though it’s only audio, it engages more of you as an audience member because you’re building the visual. It truly is “theater of the mind” and you’re the casting and artistic director for the plays on your stage.

On the technical side, it’s amazing to hear how sound effects artists brought stories to vivid life; on the performance side, the versatility of these actors is unbelievable. Actors like Joseph Kearns and Paul Frees could serve as announcers in the same episodes they appeared in as guest stars. Some actresses, like Peggy Webber and Lurene Tuttle, played multiple supporting roles in a single episode. The talent pool in these shows is amazing, and while some went on to appearances in films and TV, radio is where many of them did their finest work and it’s a showcase of their talents.

BFB: What impresses me so much about the actors in these shows is that they seem to hold nothing back for radio. Bogart specifically continues to impress me with his passionate radio acting, as does Greenstreet. While reading Peter Lorre’s bio, I found it interesting that he made enormous amounts of time for radio, and seemed to love it almost as much as film. What do you think the appeal was for these bigger stars to work so hard for radio?

DTMS: You brought up Peter Lorre, and I think he’s a great example of an actor who enjoyed screen success but who still loved to come back to radio. One week he could be plotting his wife’s murder on Suspense, and the next he could be clowning around with Abbott and Costello. Radio gave actors a freedom they couldn’t always find on screen. Lorre usually had – well, the “Peter Lorre” part in movies, but he headlined on the air (including a 1947 anthology series called Mystery in the Air, where he starred in a different play each week). Radio afforded an opportunity for an actor to stretch and try something outside of their (or their audience’s) comfort zone. The public might not have wanted to see Jimmy Stewart as a smarmy SOB for a ninety minute feature, but he could play one on Suspense.

Radio was also a great promotion for the work actors were doing on the screen. Today, an actor may make the rounds on the late-night shows to promote a new movie. In the 40s, they could pop up on Jack Benny or Suspense, and there would always be a chance to plug their latest movie. In the late 1940s and 1950s, a number of detective shows cropped up featuring some A-list movie actors (Vincent Price, Dick Powell, Edmond O’Brien, Alan Ladd), and each show would close with a reminder for audiences to catch them in their latest film release.

BFB: Where do you find all the shows that you’ve been podcasting?

DTMS: Most of the shows I pick are from my own collection and are favorites of mine. In other cases, if I’m trying to find a specific episode, the Internet Archive is an incredible resource. Thousands of old time radio shows and public domain movies and TV episodes are available there for free (that’s just the tip of the iceberg…there are historical texts, there’s music; it’s definitely worth a visit to poke around). Some shows are off limits due to copyright (if I could, I’d love to do a retrospective of The Shadow), but most are in the public domain.

BFB: With so much to choose from, how do you go about making your selections about what to expose your audience to?

DTMS: One of the great things about doing this podcast has been hearing from folks on Twitter that they’re discovering a show after hearing it on “Down These Mean Streets.” That’s really cool, and it’s why I think carefully about which shows I’m going to feature. If I’m using a show for the first time, I try to find a good representative example of the series. For example, while it may be an interesting listen to a fan, an episode with a guest star subbing for the lead actor wouldn’t be the best introduction to that series. Sound quality comes into play; it’s great when the shows sound old, but sometimes there can be too much surface noise which, while authentic, robs the listener of the story and the performances.

My goal is to present a cross section of detectives. Most of the characters I’ve featured have been hard-boiled private eyes (my personal favorites), but there were so many great types of detectives and shows. On the show so far, we’ve had amateur sleuths, newspaper reporters, policemen, Texas Rangers, lawyers, and Sherlock Holmes. Generally, the feedback I’ve received about the variety has been good. Folks seem to like a mix of detectives. There are some who have made (and will make) multiple appearances, but I’m always looking for more examples of different kinds of shows. Next year, I’m hoping to have some radio versions of classic detective films to mix in with the regular shows.

In a few cases, folks have contacted me and asked for specific detectives (one of my listeners in Scotland wanted to hear a show called Casey, Crime Photographer). I love getting requests and encourage the listeners to drop me a note with an ask for a particular detective they’d like to hear.

BFB: Do you ever fear that there’ll come a day when the well runs dry and you’ve used up all the shows?

DTMS: Fortunately, the well isn’t anywhere close to running dry. I have the rest of 2013 scheduled and a preliminary schedule for the first six months of 2014 (again, that’s subject to change with listener requests). Even if I reached a point where I had run out of “new” shows to introduce, I have so many favorite episodes from other shows that I don’t think I could run out in this lifetime.

Also, believe it or not, “lost” shows from this period are being discovered and released. Recently, a few more episodes of Van Heflin’s single season as Philip Marlowe that were thought to be lost were uncovered. I’m hoping to get those on the podcast in the not too distant future. The list of shows to play on the podcast is long and (thanks to finds like this one) keeps getting longer!

BFB: It was an episode you posted of Sydney Greenstreet as Nero Wolfe that specifically sucked me into old time radio. If someone wanted to listen who’s never listened before, is there a specific show you’d recommend?

DTMS: If there are no objections, I’m going to cheat and recommend a show each for comedies, dramas, thrillers, Westerns, and detective shows. Each one is great; listening to all of them should give you a pretty good overview of the Golden Age of Radio.

Comedy: The Jack Benny Program. Some of his material can be topical (Truman jokes don’t play in 2013 like they did in ’48!), but most of the humor is character and situation-driven. Plus, he had without a doubt the strongest supporting cast in radio. You can’t really go wrong if you fire up a Jack Benny episode, but a good intro might be the December 9, 1945 episode where Jack invites himself to dinner at Ronald Colman’s house.

Drama: Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater On the Air. It’s from the late 1930s and it offers some of the best examples of innovative writing, directing, and use of sound effects in radio. Of course, “The War of the Worlds” is the most famous of those shows, but there are some other great episodes. Welles opened the series with a wonderful adaptation of Dracula (July 11, 1938), in which he plays both Arthur Seward and Dracula himself.

Thriller: Suspense (I played two episodes on the podcast for a Halloween show). “Sorry, Wrong Number” was its most famous show, but spoilers over the years may have robbed it of its impact. I’m going to go with Orson Welles again and recommend “The Hitch-Hiker” from Suspense (September 2, 1942): spooky atmosphere, great sound effects, wonderful score by Bernard Herrmann, and a script so great Rod Serling used it for a first season episode of The Twilight Zone.

Western: Gunsmoke is the most well-known, but I’d recommend a short-lived show called Frontier Gentleman. It tells the story of a British newspaper correspondent as he travels the west and wires stories back to London. It’s a fantastically written series, and it has a great lead performance from actor John Dehner (a mainstay on TV from the 50s to the 70s). I’d go with “Aces and Eights” (April 20, 1958), where the main character meets (and plays a final game of cards) with Wild Bill Hickock.

Detective: If you had to pick just one, I’d say The Adventures of Sam Spade starring Howard Duff. The dialogue is fast-paced, the mysteries are clever, and the film noir clichés are gently spoofed. There’s a lot in Duff’s wry performance and the weird characters he meets that reminds me of my favorite detective TV show of all time, The Rockford Files. It’s just a bit off-kilter but it still works in the genre of a hard-boiled detective show. (Fortunately, you don’t have to pick just one!)

BFB: Being a Bogart fan site, I have to ask, out of all the radio broadcasts that Bogart was a part of, do you have a favorite?

DTMS: A lot of Bogart’s old time radio appearances were recreations of his movies on Lux Radio Theater and other shows. I’ve really enjoyed the write-ups you’ve done for those shows on the blog. My favorite of the Bogart film recreations is a version of The Maltese Falcon from Academy Award Theater. Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet are back in their film roles, and it’s a very taut, well done condensed version of the movie. The writers throw Bogart some great first person narration (“a slick chick got sent up for life”). My favorite non-movie adaptation (and favorite Bogart radio appearance) is a Jack Benny episode (January 5, 1947) where Jack has Lauren Bacall over to his house for a rehearsal. Bogie drops by unexpectedly and sits in on practice:

Jack: Lauren, oh, what should I call you…Lauren, or Ms. Bacall?

Bogie: Mrs. Bogart.

BFB: Where can we keep up with you on web and keep tabs on the podcast?

DTMS: If you want to check out the show and learn more, you can head to our Tumblr where I blog about the shows featured on the podcast. You can subscribe to the show in the iTunes Store and on the Stitcher app for your iPhone or Android (reviews are definitely appreciated if you like what you hear). And if you want to see what’s coming up on the show, I’m on Twitter @MeanStsOTRPod and on Facebook. Feedback and questions are great. I’ve connected with so many great people who love old time radio through Twitter and it’s always good to find more!

BFB: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat! I’m WAAAAAAYYYY behind on my episodes, but I try to get at least one or two in every road trip!

– What are you waiting for?!? There’s so much crossover behind Classic Film and Classic Radio that I can’t imagine fans from each wouldn’t find a lot in common! Go give the Down These Mean Streets Podcast a listen, a good review, and little extra love on Twitter!

Timeless Movie Magic’s Marc Forester

Timeless Movie Magic

Over the course of writing for the Bogie Film Blog, I’ve had the pleasure to meet and chat with folks from all over the world about their passion for classic films.  One of the first people that I came across on Twitter was a man by the name of Marc Forester (@TimelessMovieM) who runs the film memorabilia website timelessmoviemagic.co.uk.  (Marc was kind enough to send me a pic of the poster he’d acquired for The Caine Mutiny for my post on the film.)

No one would ever accuse me of being an enthusiastic shopper (I really can’t stand to do it in any form – the mall, catalogues, online, etc. . . ), but I can easily lose a few hours tooling around on Marc’s site, wishing and dreaming over all the great movie merch that he has for sale.

With posters, lobby cards, autographs, magazines, and more from all over the world, Marc is an avid fan and merchant who has used his expertise to help grade memorabilia for auction.  He was nice enough to chat with me about his start in collecting, as well as offer a few tips for amateur collectors.  He even sent a few pics of some of the current Bogart pieces that he has for sale!

Check out the interview, and then head over to his site!  If you’re a classics fan, you won’t be sorry!

Bogie Film Blog:  Marc, where exactly are you located? 

Marc Forester:  I live in the sleepy county of Wiltshire, England, surrounded by lots of countryside.

BFB:  On your website you mentioned that your appreciation for classic film started with your nan.  Can you tell us a bit about her?  What she liked to watch?

MF:  I used to spend every Sunday with my nan from the age of around 4 until about 17 (and I used to pop into her house after school pretty much every day as well).  After Sunday lunch there always used to be a matinee film on BBC, so we would sit down and watch that.  My nan loved Bogart and John Wayne.  Strong men.

BFB:  Was there one film in particular that hooked you onto the classics?

MF:  That’s a difficult one.  I would have to say Wuthering Heights featuring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

BFB:  Your bio on the site says your first big poster purchase was a poster from Heaven Can Wait.  What was it that that pushed you from that first purchase to becoming a super-fan and then on to a merchant of film memorabilia?

MF:  The Heaven can Wait poster I got for a really great price, which was surprising because I purchased that around the millennium when movie poster prices were sky-high.  By then I had watched a number of Gene Tierney films (I absolutely adore this woman) and it spiralled from there.  I now have a huge collection of Gene memorabilia including posters, lobby cards, autographs, and letters written by her to famous people.  My target is to get a poster from every film of her’s.  I think I have around 6 to get now.

I actually started being a Poster dealer by buying a large collection of movie stills from a dealer as he decided he had had enough of the business and I knew that in this collection there were a number of Gene Tierney film stills.  So I kept all these and sold the rest on [and] then realized I could make this into a business.

BFB: Is there a piece in your collection, Gene Tierney or otherwise, that you treasure more than all the others?

MF:  The poster I most treasure is the US one-sheet poster for the film The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947).  I had been waiting for this poster to surface in great condition for a long time, and when it did, I had to have it.  I probably paid a little more than its value at the time but it had to go into my collection.

BFB:  As someone who’s a far cry from an expert in the business of film memorabilia, can you tell me what exactly you mean by a “one-sheet?”

MF:  One sheet posters are the standard size, and up until around 1990, measured 27″x41″ and after that they measure 27″x40″.  The vast majority of posters produced before 1970 were folded twice horizontally and once vertically.  Sometime in the 1970s studios started printing one-sheets rolled, and most newer one-sheets are now printed double sided for use in light boxes in the lobbies of cinemas.

BFB:  Where do you usually find the merchandise that’s available from your site?

MF:  I am lucky enough now to have people approach me about selling their collections.  This could be as consignment, or purchasing the entire collection in one go so they get their cash and leave me with the hard work!

BFB:  As a fan that’s only purchased poster reprints – it seems like the original copies of the bigger films can be incredibly expensive and hard to come by.  Apparently, collecting wasn’t on the minds of the studio advertisers when posters were made?

MF:  Back in the early days of poster advertising, many film studios only printed limited amounts of posters to advertise at cinemas/theatres, and in most cases, when the film had finished showing at that particular cinema, the poster was carefully taken down and sent on to the next one.  Posters or Lobby cards were never meant for the public.  That is why some of the classic Universal horror posters from around 1930-1935 are very scarce and can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

What exactly do you mean by “lobby cards?”

MF:  Lobby cards measure 11″ x 14″ and were almost always printed in sets of 8.  Many lobby card sets (usually pre-1970) have a “title card.”  A title card normally has artwork and the credits from the movie, and is different in appearance from the other seven cards in the set.

BFB:  If there’s a casual collector reading this, what should they look for when buying a piece?

MF:  There is a particular grading scale that a lot of poster dealers use to describe the items they sell.  However, I find it is quite easy to hide behind a ‘fine’ grade and not describe the actual flaws of the poster.  That is why Timeless Movie Magic uses a much stricter grading system and accurately describes every flaw.

For a fan to know if the poster they are potentially purchasing is valuable, my best advice is to really research the dealer they are dealing with.  If the deal is too good to be true, then be suspicious.  Experts in movie posters can tell in many ways if a poster is authentic or not by the feel of the paper.  Also look for clues on the poster by the writing on it.  If the stamp at the bottom of the poster says r66, then you will know it is a re-release from 1966.  Always buy from dealers you can trust, and if necessary, they can always email me for advice.  This industry is my passion and I want more people to be involved in movie poster collecting.

BFB:  Let’s say that I’ve got a halfway decent piece and I want to display it.  What should I know?

MF: My best advice is to never display your poster where direct sunlight can get to it.  This will almost certainly ruin your poster after a number of years.  If the poster is particularly valuable, then I would recommend a special UV glass frame.

BFB:  While helping grade posters for auctions, have you ever seen anything really rare or valuable that turned your head?

MF:  I have seen a 1958 Dracula quad-poster (British) which was estimated at £3000 ($4,848 – BFB) sell for £18000 ($29,083 – BFB).  Even the experts get it wrong sometimes, but that’s what’s great about live auctions. You never know what can happen.

BFB:  Is there a piece out there that you really want but haven’t been able to acquire?

MF:  My biggest regret was I once had the chance to purchase an original Rita Hayworth Gilda poster one-sheet.  Now this was at the beginning of my time in the industry and I passed up the chance.  This poster can sell for around £10000 ($16,162 – BFB) if in very good condition.  I would love to own this poster.  It has a beautiful image of Rita Hayworth.

BFB:  Being a Bogart fan site, I have to ask, what’s the best piece of Bogart memorabilia that you have on hand? 

MF:  The best piece of Bogart memorabilia I have on hand is a Key Largo lobby card.

Key Largo lobby card(£200.00 – or $324.00!  A Steal!  I’ll start saving my pennies!)

.

MF:  I have sold a 1950’s African Queen French Grande poster which had a great image of Bogart and Hepburn on it.

BFB:  Do you have a favorite Bogart film?

MF:  It has to be The Maltese Falcon.  Bogart was such a star, but in this film he was out of this world.

BFB:  If someone wants to find you on web, see your merchandise, or ask your opinion for a piece, where can they find you?

MF:  Visit www.timelessmoviemagic.co.uk to see great film posters for every type of collector.  They have some great deals on right now!

BFB:  Thanks, Marc!  I appreciate your time!  Good luck on someday attaining the rest of your Gene Tierney collection!

MF:  Thanks for this, enjoyed it immensely.  Cheers!

What are you waiting for?!?  Click on through one of the following pics that Marc sent me and check out the rest of Marc’s Bogart memorabilia – along with the rest of the merchandise!

Amazing Dr Clitterhouse (1000 x 774)

Key Largo Trade Ad (1251 x 1600)

The Inafferrabile Leslie Howard

Inafferrable Leslie.png2

One of the great things about participating in the classic film blog community is that I get to meet and chat with so many great folks who are passionately writing about their favorite film topics.

This week I was lucky enough to talk with Ginevra Di Verduno (a pen name), an Italian who runs the Leslie Howard fan site, The Inafferrabile Leslie Howard. Leslie Howard had such a huge influence on Humphrey Bogart’s success, that when I came across Ginevra’s site I couldn’t resist making contact to learn a little more about Howard from someone who’s working hard to keep his legacy alive.

Ginevra apologized for English not being her first language – but as you’ll see, her English is probably better than mine, and most certainly better than my Italian!

Bogie Film Blog: Ginevra, can you tell us a little about yourself? What you do, where you are, who you are, etc. . .

Ginevra Di Verduno: I do not like to talk about myself, and I think my story is not so important, after all. I am Italian, English is not my mother language. Ginevra Di Verduno is a pen name, but I think my identity is not relevant. I have been studying and researching Leslie Howard’s life and career for years, he has become the centre of my interests.

BFB: Fair enough! The Bogie Film Blog keeps a few similar secrets, after all! Can I ask how you became a fan of Leslie Howard? What was the first film you remember seeing?

GDV: In my preadolescence years, I met for the first time the character of Sir Percy Blakeney, invented by Baroness Orczy in her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel. The incredible adventures of the English baronet who braved dangers to save the French aristocrats from the guillotine, hidden behind the mask of a spineless fop, fascinated me and remained impressed in my memory. Some years later, when I became an avid spectator of the old black-and-white cinema, I met my childhood crush again in the famous film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel produced in 1934 by Alexander Korda. Korda’s movie was adapted quite freely from baroness Orczy’s novel, and the main character, Sir Percy Blakeney, was played by Leslie Howard.

Like most Italians of my generation, I already knew Leslie Howard for his role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. I was not enthusiastic about that film, and Ashley had not impressed me so much. In that role, Leslie Howard inspired me mixed feelings. I certainly loved him better than Clark Gable’s Rhett, because of my instinctive antipathy for Rhett and his type of male character. Nevertheless, though I admired Leslie Howard’s aristocratic elegance in Nineteenth Century clothes, there was something peculiar about his beautiful face that made me feel uneasy. His face was veiled by a sort of painful melancholia, perfectly suited to the sad, resigned character of a Southern gentleman who saw his world disappear. I did not know Leslie Howard loathed that role [and] that he had even refused to read Margaret Mitchell’s novel. I did not know that the making of Gone With the Wind coincided with a crucial moment in his personal and professional life, with the turning point that had forced him to leave Hollywood and go back to England. That melancholia was not only a matter of acting skills.

As Percy Blakeney, Leslie Howard was sensational. I realized that he must have been exceedingly amused when playing that role. The ravishing grace of his movements and the unequaled irony of his speech won me over. His slender, elegant figure was enhanced by the Eighteenth Century clothes, and the close-ups on his youthful face – actually, he was forty-one, but he looked ten years younger – highlighted his eyes, so intensely expressive. He fully embodied my Percy Blakeney, as I had fancied him when I was eleven. I discovered a great actor I have never ceased to love.

BFB: What made you take the leap from fan to blogger in order to honor Leslie?

GDV: I am convinced that Leslie Howard is incredibly underrated by today’s public. The present generation knows him only as Ashley Wilkes, a role he did not love. Many people have never watched classic movies like Berkeley Square, Of Human Bondage, [and] The Petrified Forest. They do not know what a shining Broadway star he was when Hollywood producers started to lure him by offering him the most flattering roles opposite the greatest female stars. He even said no when offered a leading role with Greta Garbo. Under his suave appearance, he was stubborn and strong-willed; he knew perfectly well what he wanted and did not hesitate to put pressure on producers to get it. That is what he did to help Humphrey Bogart to get the Duke Mantee role in The Petrified Forest.

I think it is a shame that after Leslie’s death his name has been almost forgotten. I wonder why the British Film Institute has not taken the initiative of preserving his memory. He chose to leave Hollywood and go back to England to make his films there in very hard times, when many English actors, directors, and producers went the opposite direction. I think his Country should be more grateful to him.

Before I created my blogs (Inafferrabile Leslie on WordPress and Leslie Howard Forever on Tumblr), there were only a few web pages about Leslie Howard. I felt I needed to fill that gap; I wanted to bring him back into the spotlight. I am still working hard, because he deserves a greater recognition than my personal efforts can obtain.

Leslie Tumblr

BFB: Can you talk a bit about Leslie’s history? Hollywood has a habit of mixing myth and truth. For instance, is it true that he got into acting for trauma therapy after the war?

GDV: Leslie Howard’s life is a fascinating and rather mysterious history, mainly because the truth about him is still partially hidden behind the public image carefully built up by the Hollywood studios during the Thirties. He was an unconventional man, who refused to adapt himself to the rules of the star system. His behavior was really a thorn in the flesh for producers, and still is for researchers. He rarely appeared at social events, he was very keen on his privacy, he scarcely gave interviews, and when he did, he only talked about acting and film-making.

His interest for the stage had started when he was still a boy. His sister Irene described him as an avid reader of any kind of plays, “from Shakespeare to Sutro,” often shut in his room writing stories and plays. He firstly wanted to become a writer, and later a director and producer. He always thought his success as an actor was just an outcome decided by chance.

Before the First World War he had worked as a bank clerk, but he was extremely unhappy in that position. So when he left the army in 1916, he decided he would not come back to his old occupation. He had recently married Ruth, who shared his love for the stage and was very supportive. Leslie’s mother was a warm supporter, too; she loved theatre and had even acted in several amateur productions. So Leslie haunted a theatre agent until he got a role in a touring company, and that was the beginning of his extraordinary career.

The story about Leslie Howard taking acting as a trauma therapy is absolutely fantastic. In spite of all the tales about his being shell-shocked during the war, there is no evidence that he even went to the front. Of course, this was an uncomfortable topic to be discussed during the Twenties. The First World War was a real massacre, and those who escaped death felt somewhat guilty. Leslie never talked about his war experiences. When asked about this, he always changed the subject.

I am particularly interested in Leslie Howard’s career on stage. Today, this is probably the least known part of his life, though he was extraordinarily popular on Broadway during the Twenties. His first Broadway role was Sir Calverton Shipley in Just Suppose at the Henry Miller’s Theatre in 1920. In 1927, he became a matinée idol as André Sallicel in Her Cardboard Lover, stealing the show from the famous actress Jeanne Eagels. Then Berkeley Square made a real star of him, in 1929. Hollywood producers could no longer ignore his great popularity.

Anyway, Outward Bound was not his first film. In 1919, when he was still in England, Leslie Howard had founded a film production company with his friend Adrian Brunel. Their company had a short life, but they produced several short films, and Leslie played the leading role in two comedies, Five Pounds Reward and Bookworms. He was always interested in film production.

BFB: Of all the films that Leslie Howard acted in, which one would you say is your favorite and why?

GDV: This is a very hard question for me, because I love all his performances, for different reasons. He was such a great actor; he really could play convincingly any kind of role. Hollywood producers tried to cage him in romantic roles, but he was not easy to handle. After his first movies, he had signed strong contracts which allowed him to go back on stage when he wished and to say the last word about a story or a character or a partner he did not like. Today we may discuss his choices, but he surely made them because he was convinced that he could perform on a high level, and because he thought the film was an interesting experiment, as he did when accepting to play Romeo in Thalberg’s Romeo and Juliet. The only role he accepted without being convinced is Ashley Wilkes.

If I have to choose just one film, maybe my favorite one is Pygmalion. Henry Higgins is the perfect Howardian role. Though G.B. Shaw did not agreed on the choice of Leslie Howard as Higgins, I think Leslie gave such an inimitable performance in that role that he has become the unavoidable reference for the following generations of actors.

BFB: How about the films that he directed? Is there a favorite?

GDV: Apart from Pygmalion – that he co-directed – my favorite is Pimpernel Smith. There is so much of Leslie Howard’s soul and wit in that film. It is almost prophetical.

BFB: Can you talk a bit about the circumstances surrounding his death? If I’m remembering right, his plane was shot down by the Germans during WWII, and there is some suspicion that he might have been a decoy for Winston Churchill. Do you have a theory on the rumor?

I am afraid that all these speculations about Leslie Howard’s death have been distracting the attention from his life and career. I do not believe that the shooting down of his plane was a case of mistaken identity. Churchill was too conspicuous; I am convinced that the Germans knew all his moves perfectly well. Leslie’s son, Ronald, believed that his father was the real target of the attack. Leslie had an active and prominent role in English propaganda, his radio broadcasts had made a sort of national symbol of him.

Some theories hint that Leslie Howard was on a secret mission when travelling to Portugal and Spain. I do not know whether he was really involved in intelligence activities or not. He surely was a convinced and fierce opponent of Nazism.

BFB: One of the things I love about Classic Hollywood blogs is that they’re a great jumping-off point for many folks who are looking for more info on their favorite actors and films. If there’s a fan out there that really wants to know more about Leslie’s life, is there a book, website, or documentary that you’d recommend for them?

My favorite book about Leslie is Ronald Howard’s In Search Of My Father. In my opinion, Ronald caught his father’s personality better than anyone else. There is a deep understanding and empathy running through those pages; I have read Ronald’s book several times, and I always feel sincerely moved.

Leslie Ruth’s book A Quite Remarkable Father is very entertaining. She was a lively, outspoken person, and Leslie adored her.

Another important book is Trivial Fond Records, a collection of Leslie’s writings edited by Ronald. Leslie was really a gifted writer. I hope his writings will be reprinted, in a complete edition, including his play, Murray Hill.

And of course, I am looking forward to watching Tom Hamilton’s documentaries. I hope they will be released very soon.

BFB: Can you tell us a bit about Hamilton’s campaign to fund the Leslie Howard documentaries?

In 2006, while visiting Toronto for the International Film Festival, Tom Hamilton met Leslie Howard’s grand-daughter who invited him to visit her mother – Leslie Howard’s daughter. At Leslie Ruth’s home, Tom Hamilton discovered some 4 and a half hours of home movies which were in danger of decaying. Leslie Ruth’s stories of her father were so fascinating and illuminating that Tom had the idea of making a documentary about Leslie Howard using the interviews and the home movies.

The small-scale project evolved into a larger one when Tom started to interview Leslie Howard’s colleagues, as well as writers and historians who had studied his life. Besides, each interviewee had strong views and opinions relating to Leslie’s death. In the end, Tom decided to create two distinct films, one – Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn – illustrating Leslie’s life and career, the other – The Mystery of Flight 777 – examining the 70 year old mystery surrounding the attack and shooting down of civilian passenger Flight 777 over the Bay of Biscay. A special contribution is the comment provided by Derek Partridge, who was only a child in 1943 and escaped a tragic death because he had to give way to Leslie Howard aboard the ill-fated Flight 777.

The two documentaries are now in the post-production phase and should be released in 2014. There are still costs to be covered, so Tom Hamilton has launched a new campaign on Indiegogo to raise the funds needed to complete post-production and legal clearance. All contributions, even small ones, can help to reach the goal. I am actively participating in this campaign, and I hope we will have the support of all Leslie’s fans.

BFB: Can you tell us something about Leslie Howard that most people don’t know?

GDV: Leslie always wore a signet ring on the little finger of his left hand, with the Blumberg family crest on it (his mother’s maiden name was Blumberg), and a gold sovereign Ruth had given him, at a chain around his neck. He was rather superstitious.

BFB: Ginevra, I just want to thank you again for letting me talk to you a bit, and I look forward to following your site and eventually seeing the Leslie Howard documentaries! Thank you!

 

The Lost One

Lorre book

A review and interview with The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre‘s author Stephen D. Youngkin, and researcher/web guru Cheryl Morris.

In my experience, there are two kinds of celebrity biographies – the ones that stay close to the surface and are meant for a quick and enjoyable read, and the ones that go much deeper, giving the reader a thoroughly comprehensive look at not only a performer’s life, but also their essence. I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin falls into the second category.

By far the most comprehensive and exhaustive (in a great way) examination of an actor’s life, Youngkin has captured a portrait of character actor Peter Lorre that is not only fascinating, but sometimes exhilarating, occasionally painful, and finally haunting. Lorre’s prominence in Classic Hollywood had been documented so often in short bio pieces on TCM and in stories from other celebrity bios that I’d always felt as if I’d had a good handle on his life. What more was there left to know?

Plenty.

Youngkin’s years of work and research have shown that what we think we know about Peter Lorre only scratches the surface. Take for instance Lorre’s lifelong, sometimes tumultuous, friendship with theater director and playwright Bertolt Brecht. Like all really great bios, The Lost One gives us not only the details of Lorre’s relationship with Brecht, but the context – occasionally sidetracking deeply into the German Theater scene of the 1920’s and 30’s, dissecting the social and political climate surrounding the world that Brecht inhabited – a world that Lorre would work his way into, continuing to learn, study, and perform with Brecht until a close relationship was born. It was a relationship that would go on to affect the rest of Lorre’s career, a constant contrasting presence to his affluent Hollywood lifestyle and celebrity hobnobbing.

Above all else, the theme that runs through The Lost One is “passion.” Peter Lorre was passionate about acting, and sacrificed almost everything else in life to chase his dream. Malnutrition, debt, war, drugs, and the House Un-American Activities Committee couldn’t keep him from the stage or screen.

In fact, the only thing that probably came the closest to derailing Lorre’s career was typecasting. Murderous creep? Horror film sideshow? Gangster thug? If those are your first ideas about Peter Lorre’s characters, you need to take the time to read Youngkin’s definitive take on Lorre’s life.

This one’s a must read for Lorre fans, or anyone who has more than a passing fascination with Classic Hollywood, Bertolt Brecht, or early twentieth century theater. I picked up a copy so that I could read more about Lorre’s relationship with Bogart – I came away with a much deeper appreciation for one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors.

I was extremely honored to be able to have a conversation with The Lost One’s author Stephen D. Youngkin, and Cheryl Morris, the web guru who aided Youngkin with research and now maintains The Lost One’s web presence.

Bogie Film Blog: Stephen, Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from, what you do for a living?

Stephen D. Youngkin: I’m initially from the Mid-West. During graduate school at the University of Utah, I developed a strong interest in cinema history. After ten or so years working as an archivist at the Utah State Historical Society, I relocated, first to Pullman, Washington (Washington State University), where my wife was working toward her DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), then to Corvallis, Oregon (Oregon State University) . . . she received degrees from both schools. I am working on another project, when time permits. Two daughters, one seven, a second, seventeen months, keep me pretty busy. How did Patrick McGilligan get all those books written with three daughters?!

BFB: Speaking of being busy, I have to commend you on your work here, as the scope and scale of The Lost One is huge! How do you even go about compiling this much information about one person? How long did this process take?

SY: I became interested in Peter Lorre in the early-mid 1970s. Poking around the library, I found a dearth of information about the actor, certainly no written source that filled the gap between M (1931) and The Patsy (1964). I began thinking about writing a book.

At that time, I was in graduate school majoring in an unrelated field. My mentor knew a colleague at an Arizona university who was in contact with Vincent Price about their shared interest in American Indian art. Phone numbers were exchanged and Mr. Price made himself available. From there, my contact list mushroomed.

Price put me in contact with attorney Robert Shutan, who introduced me to Celia Lovksy (Lorre’s first wife -BFB). And one day she asked, “Would you like to talk with Fritz Lang?” I think the answer was pretty obvious. She picked up the phone and rang up Mr. Lang. . .

“I’m sending a young man up to talk with you. He’s writing a book about Peter.” After our interview, Mr. Lang said, “You know, the lady next door worked with Peter. Her name is Frances Drake (co-star of Mad Love).” Of course, this was pure luck.

And in those says the Screen Actors Guild was very good about forwarding mail. I wrote hundreds of letters. Sometimes my questions were answered in hard copy. At other times, I set up interviews. It was easier to access celebrities in those days. If you made it past the receptionist and/or agent, you generally had the interview. Even though I wasn’t sure what direction my interest would take, I knew I needed to get to these primary sources, many of whom were advanced in years, on record.

I first thought about doing a filmography, but Allan Wilson at Citadel Press (I still have his letter) said that he didn’t feel there was sufficient interest in Peter Lorre at that time. So, no Films of Peter Lorre, at least for now. Lorre went on the back burner for a time, then James Bigwood, Raymond G. Cabana, Jr. and I collaborated on The Films of Peter Lorre. By that time, around 1981, Citadel had changed its mind.

Once I decided to write a full-length biography, I visited film and theater archives in Germany (both East and West Berlin), Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, etc. I’m embarrassed to admit how many years I spent on the quest. As I say, for long periods, Lorre was pushed to the back burner during graduate school, subsequent grant work, etc.

At that point, I wasn’t convinced, having talked with agents, that I would even find a publisher. One agent told me, “Forget the films, forget about Brecht, give us the drugs, the women. Give us Bogart and Hitchcock.” It wasn’t the kind of reception that encouraged me to press ahead.

BFB: I think your devotion certainly paid off. In my experience, there are two kinds of Hollywood biographies – the ones that stay close to the surface and are meant for a quick and enjoyable read, and the ones that go much deeper, giving the reader a thoroughly comprehensive look at a performer’s life and being. I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Lost One falls into the second category.

SY: The reason for the biography’s comprehensiveness is at least two-fold. First, I was in no hurry. As far as I knew, no one else was working on a book about Peter Lorre. And I had the full and exclusive cooperation of a number of key sources, including Celia Lovksy, Cathy Lorre and Robert Shutan (Lorre’s close friend and attorney). Also, I’m basically a researcher. It’s what I enjoy, visiting archives, taking interviews, etc. There is an inherent drawback to this, however. You never want to stop researching and begin writing. There’s always another stone to turn over.

And that’s how some books never get written . . . the biographer just can’t draw a line and say enough.

BFB: There’s so much detailed information about Peter Lorre’s work in Europe – is someone keeping record of his legacy there, or did you have to do a lot of digging through records on your own?

SY: For Lorre’s theater work, I began at the beginning, digging up programs, reviews, even a few of his co-workers on the stage. This was probably the most challenging work but also the most rewarding. So many of the themes in Lorre’s life date from these early years. Also, the period very much interests me.

For the most part, people were very forthcoming with material.

BFB: Cheryl – Stephen gives you a pretty big acknowledgement at the beginning of the book. What was your contribution to the biography?

Cheryl Morris: I helped Stephen with the research by looking up information in back issues of the trade paper Variety and various city newspapers. I proofread and copy-edited the manuscript. Through the radio and TV logs of the New York Times, as well as other sources, I compiled Peter’s radio and television credits for the Appendix, and I keyed all of Peter’s credits for the Appendix. And at the end, just before publication, I proofread the galleys.

BFB: Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from, what you do for a living, what projects you’re working on now?

CM: I’m originally from California, but I’ve been living on the East Coast since 1985. I’m a computer programmer, specializing in web design. Besides the official website of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorrehttp://www.peterlorrebook.com – I work on three other websites: author Sandra Grabman’s personal site (http://www.sandragrabman.com), Charlie Datin’s Cruise Trek site (http://www.cruisetrek.com), and a site for a local small business owner.

I also write a Peter Lorre News blog, located at http://peterlorrenews.blogspot.com/, in which I cover screenings of Lorre movies on TV, in theaters, libraries, and other venues, as well as anything else Lorre-related – such as the 5-week Peter Lorre class called “The World of Peter Lorre” held in Vero Beach, Florida, years ago by an instructor who felt Peter was underused by Hollywood and wanted to help class participants understand his range as an actor.

I’m starting work on a travel website focusing on museums and guided walking tours. This site will be linked through the Peter Lorre News blog.

BFB: How did you come into contact with Stephen?

CM: Stephen and I have been friends since 1976 when we started corresponding. Along the way, I read various drafts of the manuscript for The Lost One on its way to publication. I had been a fan of Peter’s since 1973 and had a small collection of reviews, articles, photos and such, so I was able to help him with some of the research for his book.

BFB: How did you initially become interested in Lorre’s work?

CM: The first Lorre movie I saw was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on re-release to theaters in the early 1970s. This was back in the days when the Disney studio typically re-released movies from their vaults. But I really became a fan of Peter’s when I saw The Raven and Tales of Terror during an Edgar Allan Poe Week on a local TV station. I thought he was funny – and he had such big sad eyes.

BFB: Stephen, your book offers a wonderful, and very detailed, portrait of Bertolt Becht, giving us a lot of information even beyond his relationship with Lorre. Lorre clearly seemed to want to keep his ties to the theater and its community. What do you think was the draw that kept pulling him back?

SY: Lorre saw Brecht as one of the two most important writers of the 20th century, the other being James Joyce. He not only referred to Brecht as his best friend, but himself as one of Brecht’s actors. You can’t get a handle on Lorre without first understanding his friendship with Bertolt Brecht. This was the pivotal relationship in his life. How Lorre professionally looked at himself turned on it. In fact, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the only critical opinion of his work that mattered was Brecht’s.

The men influenced each other in profound ways. Lorre’s dual acting style gave form to Brecht’s theories. And Lorre’s capabilities, as Brecht saw them, defined him as an actor. From 1929 to the ends of their lives, they stood in one another’s shadows. But to back up, Lorre found himself caught between Bogart and Brecht. The former represented celebrity and good times. The latter, intellectual respectability. Clearly, Lorre wanted both. And he might have had both had Brecht’s film stories written for him been commercially viable. (Actually, one of them would have made a splendid noir, but studio politics damned the project.)

Readers are pretty familiar with the arc of Bogart’s career, but few know much about Brecht, his new style of acting, his time in America, etc., hence I covered it fairly thoroughly. This was the hidden part of Lorre’s life. Who would have guessed that during the making of the popular Bogart-Greenstreet films, he collaborated with Brecht on plans to redirect his film career?

When his movie career began to flounder during the late 1940s, Lorre made the choice (after some waffling) not to join Brecht in East Berlin. Life in Communist Germany was austere. Not so Hollywood. He liked it there. Addicted to the lifestyle? Definitely. And to the easy access to drugs. But also his friends were there, people who looked after him. And then there was the issue of politics. Lorre was politically liberal, but he certainly was no Communist. In fact, he had little interest in politics. Lastly, for someone in poor health, there was the need to stay close to good medical care. And, quite frankly, Lorre was tired, too tired to start over.

BFB: It seems that he earned a stronger reputation for being a versatile performer in the theater than he did on screen. What do you think held him back from being typecast as quickly in the theater?

CM: European theater owners and playwrights may have had a different way of looking at actors than did Hollywood movie studios of the 1930s and 1940s, when the contract system was in place.

Performing on a stage requires a different set of skills in performance and delivery; Europeans may have looked more at what an actor could bring to a part. On film, though, it seems that Hollywood looked for the actor’s “niche.”

Play a gangster in one 1930s Warner Bros. film, and suddenly in the minds of moviegoers, you “always play a gangster.” Appear in one 1930s Universal horror film, and suddenly, you’re “a horror film actor.”

Once Hollywood found that niche, they ensured the actor would continue in it – unless he had the box-office clout to break out and do something different. But there was always the chance audiences wouldn’t accept the actor in another type of part . . .

BFB: Cheryl, you mentioned in an earlier email that a video of one of Lorre’s early stage shows was taken. Which show was it? Is it available?

CM: It’s Bertolt Brecht’s Mann ist Mann.

The German director Carl Koch filmed a production of the play in 1931. Once available for screening only at the Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv in East Berlin, it’s now on DVD – and DVD copies are making the rounds.

The almost stop-action slow version runs fifty minutes, a frenetically faster version much shorter. However, the 16mm film is very poor quality and correlating scenes and text is difficult.

BFB: Was there one thing that really surprised you about Lorre as you researched his life?

SY: There were many surprises, but one of the most unexpected was just how well Lorre expressed himself in his few letters, especially those personally written (Celia often acted as his amanuensis) to close friends. In German, his writing is beautiful, even poetic.

CM: I was shocked to find out about his drug problems. A book I read on John Gielgud just put it starkly – “Peter Lorre was addicted to morphine.” Back in the 1970s, most people became addicted to drugs of all kinds because they were experimenting or “all their friends were doing it.” I didn’t know how it had happened to Peter – until I read the opening chapters of The Lost One.

BFB: It sounds like Lorre could be both a perfectionist with his work, while at the same time struggling with issues of procrastination and drug addiction. I’m amazed at how he maintained such a great career during his struggles. How do you think he was able to reconcile both sides of his life?

SY: Excellent question (and observation). There were several times during his theater career that drug addiction forced him to drop out of a play, but that was very rare. Yet, in other cases, drugs actually kept him performing, especially through stretches of debilitating health problems. Co-workers only occasionally sensed or came face-to-face with his addiction.

I’m thinking first of Norman Foster, who directed six of the Mr. Moto pictures. He first met the actor in a sanitarium and came away with the idea that Lorre was definitely not up to such a physical role. During filming Lorre was often moody. And then there’s the famous story about Lorre listening to Hitler over the radio. Norman comes in and tells him they are ready to shoot. Lorre, saliva running down his face, screams, “The world is falling apart and you want me to make a picture.” Lorre had such long running exposure to drugs that he learned how to work with them for the most part, how to pace himself.

The burden of directing, starring in, and co-producing The Lost One weighed heavily on him. Co-workers said that when he wound down, he would disappear, then reappear (seemingly) refreshed and ready to rally off. Co-workers of W.C. Fields say that liquor sharpened the comedian’s creative edge. I don’t know that morphine served the same purpose, but it seemed to keep other health problems at bay, at a high cost that he would eventually pay. You don’t see it on screen, at least not often.

An exception is the British film Double Confession (1951). Ken Annakin, who directed the picture, admitted that he was captivated by Lorre so just let him go, with the result that the actor went over the top with improvisation. What Annakin might not have known is that Lorre was heavily on drugs, meaning morphine, at this point. You have to keep in mind that Lorre had been on and off morphine since his early twenties. For the most part, he knew how to keep the obvious signs at bay. Sheer professionalism will out.

BFB: Being a Bogart site, I have to ask, do you have a favorite collaboration between Bogart and Lorre out of the five films that they made together?

SY: Knowing a little about what went on behind-the-scenes tends to color your appreciation. I think The Maltese Falcon is clearly their best film. However, I’m very fond of Beat the Devil because I know how much Lorre enjoyed making it . . . and it shows on screen.

CM: My favorite Bogart-Lorre movie is All Through the Night. I especially like the way Peter’s character Pepi stands up to Bogie’s “Gloves” Donahue, instead of Bogie getting the better of him, as he does in the other four movies they made together.

BFB: Both men had made an impression in cinema before The Maltese Falcon, but that was certainly the film that brought them both the widest attention for their careers to that point in the U.S. Could you speak for a moment on their relationship? Both men weren’t your typical good looking leading men. Do you think there was a kindred spiritedness to being both typecast for so long?

SY: Bogart and Lorre had so much to build on. They held each other in high esteem as actors. And both were professionals who did their job and went home . . . or out for a drink. Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, just have fun doing it. And stir up some trouble along the way. Any interview with one of Bogart and Lorre’s friends and co-workers quickly came round to their mutual discontent at Warner Bros. They hated the Front Office, the patriarchal echelon. Typecasting was part of it, but more so a lack of respect for authority, especially what they perceived as arbitrary authority.

However different their approaches – Bogart was a chronic complainer, Lorre more subtly insubordinate – they were on the same page. People also talked about how the pixie in Lorre, his elfin charm, amused Bogart, who came to think of him as a good luck token.

CM: I believe their friendship was probably based more on their appreciation for the acting profession, rather than the problems they had with typecasting. I’ve read that Bogart was very proud to be an actor. Peter Lorre loved being an actor, too – for him, there was nothing else – but he didn’t want others to know how seriously he took his craft.

Also, although Peter had a particular “character type,” he actually played a variety of characters – especially at Warner Bros. Make a list of Lorre characters at Warners and you’ll probably find them fairly evenly divided between Villains and Heroes.

BFB: Do you have a favorite “behind the scenes” story about Bogart and Lorre?

SY: Well, this one is not tied to a particular film, but I’m fond of the story about Bogart and Lorre wheeling Dave Chasen’s safe onto Beverly Boulevard. It’s in character for both of them.

CM: My favorite story is the one of Bogart knocking on the kitchen window of a house in the Hollywood hills early one morning and asking the woman inside for a cup of coffee. Recognizing him from the movies, she invites him in. And then he calls up Peter and asks him to pick him up and take him to the studio, where they were working on Passage to Marseille. When Peter arrives, Bogie is sitting at the kitchen table, talking with the kids in the family, and drinking brandy and coffee. I’ve wondered what it was like for the kids to have these two stars in their home.

Because although Peter generally supported the leads in his movies, he was as recognizable as Bogie was. He was doing a lot of radio at this time, appearing as the guest star on all the big variety and anthology shows, like Duffy’s Tavern and Suspense.

BFB: What about between Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet? Does a certain film standout as a favorite collaboration between the two?

SY: I’m not sure I should repeat one of my favorite stories . . . it’s a little off color, but so typical of Lorre’s penchant for charging a situation. One day when Greenstreet was sunning himself during the making of The Conspirators, Lorre cracked, in Hedy Lamarr’s presence, that he was glad someone around here had a pair of tits. It was not surprising to learn that Lamarr disliked Lorre.

Both The Mask of Dimitrios and The Verdict stand out for me. I think Lorre and Greenstreet’s chemistry reached its peak in these films. They make such a comfortable fit.

CM: The Verdict (1946) is my favorite Lorre and Greenstreet movie. It’s the film I think of when I think of them. Their characters are best friends, and as they have always played off each other well, they have several amusing and charming scenes in The Verdict. It’s out on DVD now, so Lorre and Greenstreet fans can check it out.

BFB: How about just a favorite overall Lorre film?

SY: That’s a tough question . . . best and favorite doesn’t always equate. This will rub some Lorre fans the wrong way (or at least leave them scratching their heads), but I’m very fond of Silk Stockings because we see Lorre as he wished to be seen. Director Rouben Mamoulian wanted to present the private Lorre, the one that he knew personally. Clearly, Lorre relished the comedy role. He not only danced, in a way, but also sang. It’s fun to watch Lorre being himself.

CM: I tend to have favorite Lorre characters, rather than movies, just because Peter didn’t usually have the lead in his films.

Among my favorite Lorre characters are Marius in Passage to Marseille, Victor Emric in The Verdict, Johnny West in Three Strangers, Mr. Moto in the Moto film series, Nikolai Zaleshoff in Background to Danger, and Capt. Chang in They Met in Bombay. My favorite Moto film is Thank You, Mr. Moto, released second in the series, but filmed third.

BFB: Are there any misconceptions to Lorre’s life that you’d love to clear up?

SY: I suppose it still rankles me that Lorre is considered a “horror” star. As early as 1935, studio publicists and critics began singing this song . . . and setting the stage for his stature as a horror icon. There again, the actor preferred to call Mad Love “psychological terror” rather than horror. No one listened, of course.

Lorre did work with Lugosi and Karloff relatively early in his career, but in what were predominantly comedies, e.g. You’ll Find Out and The Boogie Man Will Get You. No monsters here, just “old dark house” silliness and an Arsenic and Old Lace spin off. And unlike Lugosi and Karloff, Lorre most often balanced menacing roles with humor.

The only horror film Lorre conceded was The Beast with Five Fingers (which he didn’t want to make). And the AIP-Edgar Allan Poe films? Well, when Price and especially Lorre got done with them, they were comedies.

When you survey his film roles, Lorre actually played a wide variety of roles, even comedy, when, to my mind, he is at his very best.

CM: The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre does an excellent job of debunking the popular myths about Peter’s life – that he “ran away from home to become an actor,” that he “studied under Sigmund Freud” – myths you can read about on some of the popular biographical websites.

On the Lost One website, we also have a biographical sketch, written by Stephen in 2000, for the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture that addresses these errors.

Peter wasn’t always the creepy, scary guy with the high-pitched voice seen in caricatures and cartoons. He was a talented actor who could play any kind of character. He could be the guy you wouldn’t mind having a drink with or introducing to your family. And he could also be the guy you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

BFB: Considering that Lorre seemed averse to ever writing an autobiography, what do you think he’d make of the tribute you’ve created for him?

SY: I’ve often wondered what Lorre would have thought of The Lost One. Friends of his have said he would have appreciated the fact that someone took the time to look behind the screen image, to explore other facets of his life. There was so much more of himself that he wanted to share.

With the help of co-workers, friends and family, I tried to peel back the many layers of a very complex man. And I do think that he would have enjoyed reading the firsthand recollections and seeing just how respected and loved he was. Did I get to know him? Years of research and shared memories certainly brought me closer to the man. Still, there is an element of mystery within every person that cannot be broached, only respected.

Knowing Lorre as I do, I think he would have just shrugged and said, “You got some things right.”

CM: I think he would appreciate the effort we make to show the various facets of Peter Lorre. Many Lorre websites and blogs are out on the internet, and many of them use photos of Peter as Dr. Gogol, one of his two “horror film” parts, or other photos in which he’s cringing or cowering.

But the photos Peter saved throughout his life were portraits taken in the early years of his Hollywood career. Portraits of him dressed in a suit and tie and looking very debonair.

These portraits will appear in a special slideshow I’m building for the redesigned home page of the Lost One website.

BFB: The candid pictures you used in the book were one of my favorite parts, for sure! Can you talk to me a little bit about the website you maintain for the book?

CM: I started building the site in May 2005, several months in advance of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre coming out in print. Initially, Stephen and I used the site to promote the book, as well as include a lot of photos and information on Peter. With so many message boards and chat groups on Peter, having a website made it easy to get out the word on the book to Peter’s fans.

Since then, the site has gradually become more of a general “Peter Lorre” site, with galleries of photos, images of posters and lobby cards from Peter’s movies, DVDs of Lorre movies and TV shows, and Peter’s radio shows.

In fact, Stephen has been contacted through the Lorre website by documentary filmmakers who invited him to participate in extra features for DVD box-sets, such as the Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection Vol. 2, and the remastered Mr. Moto movies.

I’m currently redesigning the website, and there will be a lot of new material and many more photos.

In addition, we have a Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Lost-One-Authorized-Biography-of-Peter-Lorre/636098279737484.

A Twitter page — https://twitter.com/lorrebook.

And a YouTube channel — http://www.youtube.com/user/PeterLorreBook.

These will all be linked up on the redesigned website – but of course, anyone is welcome to visit them now.

BFB: Thanks so much Stephen and Cheryl! As a fan, I truly appreciate the years of work you put into chronicling Peter’s work, keeping his legacy alive for generations to come!

*The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre is available to purchase in paperback here! I highly recommend you pick up a copy!*

Ben Welden

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Humphrey Bogart with character actor Ben Welden in Kid Galahad
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(The Usual Suspects is an ongoing series of posts about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators.  You can check out other entries in the series here.)

The Man

Born in Toledo, Ohio on June 12, 1901, Ben Weinblatt discovered acting while studying engineering at college, leading to a career that took him from the London theater scene (where he changed his name to “Weldon” and then later “Welden”) all the way to Hollywood where he played parts in well over two hundred films and television shows.

Working with Bogart five times, Welden solidified his long and storied career by portraying tough guys and gangsters on screen.  Against his naturally kind and generous personality, Welden became a staple character actor in Hollywood anytime the studios needed someone who could look mean, talk tough, and hold their own against some of Tinseltown’s greatest actors.  Just to name a few besides Bogart, Welden shared the screen with James Cagney, Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and countless other greats in many of Hollywood’s most celebrated films.

I was deeply honored to be able to have a chat with Ben’s nephew, Charles Weinblatt.  Charles, author of the novel Jacob’s Courage, blogs about writing on his own site here.  Charles knew his famous uncle very well, as he got to visit with him many times during the years between 1957 and 1965.  Charles wrote to me, “As Ben had no children, I was as close to that as is possible for him. We spoke at least once a week for many decades; he visited here often and Ben came to love my wife and children as his own.”

I asked Charles to answer some of the questions that I would have loved to ask Ben if I’d gotten the chance:

Bogie Film Blog:  Can you give us a little background on Ben’s life?

Charles Weinblatt:  As a child, Ben played the violin and longed to pursue a career building things.  Ben went to Carnegie Tech, where he majored in Engineering.  While there, a friend pushed him to take a theater course.  The rest is history.  Long before Ben went to Hollywood, he was on stage in London, England.  There, he made a name for himself and he was forced to change his name.  In the 1920s and early 1930s, it was not appropriate for an actor to use an obviously Jewish name, like Weinblatt.  Ben thought that he might change it into something that would brand him as a good actor.  This changed “Weinblatt” into “Well-don”, which became “Weldon,” which later became “Welden.”  In fact, I’ve seen some credits with the spelling “Weldon.”

BFB:  Was Ben a contract player for Warner Brothers at the time that he worked with Bogart?  Did he have contracts with other studios? 

CW:  As far as I’m aware, Ben was under contract with Warner Brothers for decades, [and] that’s when he worked with Bogie.  He also worked as needed for Universal and MGM.

BFB:  Did he ever get to choose his roles, or were they usually assigned to him due to the studio contract system?

CW:  Ben was the penultimate typecast actor.  While I would say that he didn’t pick and choose his roles, especially when he was very busy (1940’s through the early 60’s), I believe that the studios understood his value and they came after him when they needed a gangster.

BFB:  What role out of his more than 200, would you say that Ben was most proud of?

CW:  I never asked him this question, but I suspect in a formal sense Marked Woman was his greatest achievement.  He found it interesting to work with big name stars like Bogart and Bette Davis.  When the film arrived in Toledo, the theater was packed to standing room only.  I think every Jewish person in town was there.  In the middle of the film, Ben was supposed to take Bette Davis into a hallway and beat her up.  Of course, in those days violence in films was not graphic, as it is today.  But Ben grabbed her by the arm and shoved her into a hallway where you could hear him punching her, her crying out, and then the thumps as she was pushed down a flight of stairs.  At that very moment, my grandmother (Ben’s mom) stood up the in theater and screamed, “That’s not my Benny. He wouldn’t do a thing like that!”  As you can imagine, the audience loved it, with laughter trailing off for a minute or two.

BFB:  Do you have any specific memories of being on a set and seeing Ben interact with the cast and crew?  Perhaps even filming a memorable scene?

CW:  I never saw Ben acting on a set.  That being said, I recall being introduced to Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleschette (40 pounds of Trouble), Ronald Reagan (Death Valley Days), Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), Steve McQueen, Julie Andrews, Lee Marvin, and a host of directors and producers.  I recall a memorable scene watching Gregory Peck interact with the children in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The kids were inside of an old abandoned car in front of a large painting of a forest.  I recall thinking that no one will watch that movie and believe that the painting was a real forest.  Yet, when I watched the movie, I would swear that the forest was real.  That’s when I began to realize that Hollywood had some sort of magic.  I once tried to recall my Hollywood-related experiences with Ben’s career and my essay is here.

BFB:  I’ll make sure to link it to the blog!  Ben was known so well for playing heavies and tough guys.  Did he enjoy those roles?  How did they compare to his real personality?

CW:  Ben’s personality off-stage was the complete opposite of his film persona.  Instead of the cold, heartless thug that we saw in movies, Ben was a very charming, warm-hearted character in real life.  Although he never had any of his own, Ben loved children.  On one of his visits to Toledo, he went with my wife to her classroom, where he spent an entire afternoon charming the elementary students.  On film, Ben was a nasty, gruesome gangster.  In real life, he was a big softie; he could charm anyone.  As a child, this gave me an excellent perspective upon how character actors can become a completely different persona on film.

BFB:  Since this is a Humphrey Bogart blog, I have to ask – did Ben have any stories specifically about Bogart that you could share?

CW:  Ben worked with Bogie; however, he was not the best fan of Bogart.  From Ben’s frame of reference, he took direction very well.  But many of the most famous Hollywood actors did not.  There were arguments on sets in which actors told directors how they felt the scene should play out and famous directors who felt it should be played differently.  There seemed to be an increasingly arduous correlation between fame and arrogance.  The one feature that likely made Ben’s career successful for decades was that he took direction well.  He asked the director how his lines should be read and then followed through with it.  But some of the big Hollywood stars looked down upon the director and argued over how the lines should be read.  This was a director’s nightmare.  Of course, the director could then speak with Ben and hear the character actor say, “How shall I play these lines?”  It was music to director’s ears.  Instead of an argument, the director was offered an open question… “How do you think this character should be seen and heard?”

BFB:  Do you have a favorite role that Ben played while working with Bogart?

CW:  Once more, with Bogart, it’s Marked Woman.  He only spoke of working with Bogart in Marked Woman.  In a sense, their careers were fairly diverse.  Ben was making movies in Hollywood long before Humphrey Bogart became a household name.  And, Ben remained in studio and TV credits long after Bogart’s career was cut short by illness.  Bogart’s career was a shooting star, higher and brighter than Ben Welden.  But, Ben had many more credits to his Hollywood career and he appeared in more films and TV shows, even if the appearance was in Mr. Ed, The Three Stooges, Ma & Pa Kettle and The Lucy Show.    

BFB:  Do you have a personal favorite overall role that Ben played?

CW:  I loved many of Ben’s roles.  Even though he was typically a gangster or hood, each role was slightly different and required him to be someone with a different personality.  As a child, I watched virtually every TV episode of Superman, until George Reeves killed himself and his TV show simultaneously.  Similarly, I was proud to see Ben acting in episodes of the TV series Batman.  Some roles were just slapstick, including Ma & Pa Kettle, The Three Stooges and I Love Lucy.

BFB:  I very much agree that Ben was able to make each “thug” he played just a little different.  He seemed to have a great grasp on nuancing his characters.  Did he ever get the chance to play a non-gangster role?

CW:  Ben had one Hollywood role when he was not a gangster.  In fact, he was Friar Tuck in a B-movie version of Robin Hood.  It was released in the year I was born (1952), and was directed by James Yingling.  The studio required an actor who was fat, bald, and could take direction well.  As far as I am aware, that was the only time that Ben played a nice guy.  This was NOT the version starring Errol Flynn or the version starring Richard Green as Robin.  It was called Tales of Robin Hood.  I have a crappy old VHS copy of this “film” buried somewhere in my house.  You can apparently own, for seven dollars, another crappy, old VHS copy from Amazon here.  Few people have seen it, or recall that they saw it.  It’s obviously an old, low budget, shortened version of the story.  Ben was the perfect Friar Tuck.  Bald, fat, loved to drink, and jovial, Ben played the part with distinction.

BFB: Did Ben have any interests outside of acting?

CW:  When Ben neared retirement age, he and a partner opened a store in Los Angeles called Nutcorn.  This product was a scrumptious combination of popcorn, caramel, nuts and “special ingredients.”  Nutcorn became the rage of Hollywood.  Everyone who was someone was sending Nutcorn as a gift to friends and family.  Before long, Ben was sending huge boxes of Nutcorn around the world.  It was so delicious that it disappeared swiftly.  Ben was at least as successful as an entrepreneur as he was an actor.

BFB:  You mentioned that you have too many Ben Weldon stories to tell – but can you give me just one that really shows his personality?

CW:  Ben loved children.  As I mentioned earlier, he charmed children in the school where my wife taught – and they had likely never seen him on film.  As tough as his appearance was as a gangster in movies, he was that much an opposite in real life.  Ben went to Hawaii to film Ma & Pa Kettle at Waikiki Beach.  He was so profoundly in love with the islands that he spent a huge percentage of the rest of his life in Hawaii.  He took my parents and I there in 1965 and we too fell in love with the islands and the Hawaiian people.  I’ve since been there three more times, including my honeymoon and our 15th wedding anniversary.  In Hawaii, Ben was the most pleasant, polite, and gentle guy that you can imagine – a far cry from his on camera gangster persona.

BFB:  What would you want the world to know about Ben that they might not already know?

CW:  As a child, Ben played the violin.  It’s my understanding that his parents wanted him to become a concert violinist.  That doesn’t jive well with his selection of engineering as a major, or his university (Carnegie Tech).  I would want the world to know that Ben was a gentle person who loved people and children.  I would also like the world to know that Ben married a real duchess when he was on stage in England.   (If you want to read more about Ben’s marriage to the duchess, you can check out Charles’ writeup on the Jim Nolt’s Adventures of Superman tribute website here – BFB)

BFB:  Thank you so much, Charles!  I really appreciate the chance to get to talk to you about your uncle!

The Filmography

Marked Woman – 1937

marked woman 3Eduardo Cianelli with Ben Welden
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Welden plays Charlie, the enforcer who does the dirty work for nightclub owner and gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli).  Welden does a wonderful job here as he menaces in the background, a constant, looming threat to Mary (Bette Davis) and her call-girl roommates as they come into conflict with their boss.  Perhaps his most memorable scene is left mostly to our imagination as we see him enter a room with Davis to punish her on Vanning’s behalf, and the movie-goer only gets to hear the gruesome beating.

Kid Galahad – 1937

Kid GalahadBogart with Welden
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Welden plays Buzz Barett, the smiling enforcer for gangster and boxing promoter Turkey Morgan (Humphrey Bogart).  What I love so much about Welden in this film is that he plays essentially the same character as he does in Marked Woman, but with the addition of a large and toothy grin.  The change makes him comes off as a much more likable, albeit sometimes goofy, thug as he stands behind Bogart, backing up his boss’ every threat.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

The Roaring TwentiesJames Cagney with Welden and Gladys George
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Welden has a brief cameo as a Tavern Proprietor who has to deal with a drunken and down-on-his-luck James Cagney just before the climax of the film.  Cagney is chatting up Welden’s nightclub singer, Gladys George, and Welden would rather that she be doing her job.  It might be a small part, but how many actors can say that they got to give Cagney a tough time in a film?

All Through the Night – 1942

All through the nightWelden with Frank McHugh and Bogart
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It’s another brief appearance for Welden as Smitty, the taxicab dispatcher that helps Bogart and his crew track down Kaaren Verne’s sultry nightclub singer.

The Big Sleep – 1946

bs 3Welden with Tom Fadden and Bogart
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Welden plays Pete, one of the two henchmen helping gangster Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) as he blackmails the Sternwood family.  Teamed up with Tom Fadden, who plays the other henchman, Sidney, Welden gets a great little role as the thug who’s endlessly amused by his partner.  Fadden deadpans to Bogart left and right while Welden gets to laugh and comment, “He kills me!”  I truly enjoy Welden’s roles where he gets to smile – despite the fact that he’s a hired thug!  In a fun side note, the character names Pete and Sidney are both a nod to two other regular Bogart costars – Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet!

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For a more in depth write up on Ben Welden’s personal life and career, make sure you check out the page that Charles wrote for him over at Jim Nolt’s tribute page for The Adventures of Superman!  Thanks Jim for allowing me to use your site as a reference and helping me get in touch with Charles!

* All research for this post was done with Jim Nolt’s Adventures of Superman tribute page, the above interview with Charles Weinblatt, A. M. Sperber’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Bogart, Stefan Kanfer’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Tough Without a Gun, Ben Welden’s Wikipedia page, Ben Welden’s IMDB page, the official website of The Humphrey Bogart Estate, and various movie entries on IMDB.  All screen caps were done by the author and are intended for review/criticism of the films mentioned. – BFB