More ‘TCM Remembers’: 1940s second leads Betty Garrett & Leslie Brooks + last surviving silent era actresses
(See previous post: “TCM Homage: Tura Satana & Cliff Robertson + Jane Russell & Ken Russell.”) A few more “TCM Remembers” luminaries are listed below. These include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer actress-singer Betty Garrett, Columbia contract player Leslie Brooks, 1970s filmmaker Gilbert Cates, and, notably, the last two English-language leading ladies of the silent era.
Further below are listed a handful of film personalities from around the world not found in this year’s Turner Classic Movies video homage.
MGM actress-singer Betty Garrett was featured in a trio of successful 1949 “ensemble” color musicals:
- Edward Buzzell’s Neptune’s Daughter, with Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, and Red Skelton.
- Busby Berkeley’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game, with Williams, Gene Kelly, and Frank Sinatra.
- Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s On the Town, with Kelly, Sinatra, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, and Jules Munshin.
Betty Garrett’s Hollywood career suffered a serious setback shortly after its launch, as the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and all-around anti-Red hysteria led to the blacklisting of her husband, actor Larry Parks (Best Actor Oscar nominee for The Jolson Story, 1946).
Her only other important film role was as the titular “My” in Columbia’s Richard Quine-directed 1955 musical version of My Sister Eileen, with Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon.
Four-time Best Director Oscar nominee Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, 1957; Dog Day Afternoon, 1975; Network, 1976; The Verdict, 1982) was known for his ability to elicit top-notch performances out of his – for the most part male – actors.
These include Best Actor Oscar winner Peter Finch (Network), and Oscar nominees Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker, 1965), Al Pacino (Serpico, 1973; Dog Day Afternoon), William Holden (Network), and Paul Newman and James Mason (both in The Verdict).
Sidney Lumet was given an Honorary Oscar in 2005.
Composer John Barry won five Academy Awards: Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Born Free,” with Don Black) for Born Free (1966), plus Best Original Score for The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985), and Dances with Wolves (1990).
Other John Barry credits include Guy Hamilton’s James Bond thriller Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and two time-bending features: Jeannot Szwarc’s Somewhere in Time (1980) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).
Like Betty Garrett, Leslie Brooks is best remembered for her movie appearances in the 1940s, when she was seen in about a dozen Columbia releases, among them William A. Seiter’s You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl (1944), and Victor Saville’s Tonight and Every Night (1945), all three toplining Rita Hayworth.
After she and Columbia parted ways, Brooks landed the title role in Jack Bernhard’s 1948 indie B film noir Blonde Ice, in which she played a scheming femme fatale making life difficult for Robert Paige.
Leslie Brooks’ film career came to an abrupt halt that same year. There would be only one minor comeback in Russel Vincent’s little-seen 1971 drama How’s Your Love Life?, featuring former B actors John Agar, Grant Williams, Mary Beth Hughes, and another 2011 departed, Eve Brent.
David Nelson is best known for the long-running “family friendly” television series The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1952–1966), in which he was featured alongside his parents (Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson [a.k.a. Harriet Hilliard]) and younger brother (Ricky Nelson).
On the big screen, he was seen sporadically in supporting roles as youthful, handsome types – e.g., Mark Robson’s risqué blockbuster Peyton Place (1957) and, wearing skin-tight tights, Joseph M. Newman’s all-star soap opera The Big Circus (1959).
Three decades later, David Nelson made a noteworthy big-screen comeback as former porn star Traci Lords’ father in John Waters’ 1950s-set Cry-Baby (1990), starring Johnny Depp.
Another “TCM Remembers” talent most familiar for his television work is Peter Falk, who brought to life the unshowered, first-nameless Los Angeles homicide detective Columbo in the long-running series Columbo (off and on, 1971–2003). But unlike David Nelson, Falk did have an extensive feature film career.
A two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee (Murder, Inc., 1960; Pocketful of Miracles, 1961), he collaborated with John Cassavetes (Husbands, 1970; A Woman Under the Influence, 1974); took part in Robert Moore’s all-star murder mystery romp Murder by Death (1976); and, as a – literally – fallen angel, played a Columbo-esque version of himself in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987).
Filmmaker and frequent Academy Awards ceremony producer Gilbert Cates directed a quartet of Oscar nominees in a couple of intriguing family dramas of the early 1970s: Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman in I Never Sang for My Father (1970), and Joanne Woodward and Sylvia Sidney in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973).
Later on a frequent television director (Hobson’s Choice, Call Me Anna), Cates handled the groundbreaking coming out drama Consenting Adult (1985), starring Martin Sheen and Marlo Thomas as the parents of athletic, masculine gay son Barry Tubb.
A Most Promising Newcomer BAFTA winner for his portrayal of a World War II American bomber pilot in Anthony Asquith’s Orders to Kill (1958), Paul Massie is chiefly known for the 1960 Hammer Films production The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll / House of Fright / Jekyll’s Inferno, in which his Mr. Hyde comes across as the more alluring side of the otherwise colorless doc.
Massie also had a major role in Basil Dearden’s anti-racism, anti-xenophobia drama Sapphire, a Best Picture BAFTA nominee that created a stir upon its release in 1959.
Later on, he became a theater professor at the University of South Florida.
Michael Gough’s movie career went from a supporting role in Julien Duvivier’s Anna Karenina (1948), starring Vivien Leigh, to providing the voice for the Dodo Bird in Tim Burton’s 3D blockbuster Alice in Wonderland (2010).
Along the way, the busy actor also found time to play Alfred Pennyworth in Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), in addition to Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997).
Silent era leading ladies Miriam Seegar & Barbara Kent
Truly marking the end of an era, in 2011 the world lost silent film actresses Miriam Seegar and Barbara Kent. They were the last two – relatively speaking – “well-known” surviving performers who had lead roles in English-language silent films. Both were 103 years old.
A minor leading lady at the dawn of the sound era, Indiana-born Miriam Seegar was seen in nearly 20 features between 1928 and 1932. She’s best known for a couple of British silents, G.B. Samuelson’s Valley of the Ghosts (1928) and Tim Whelan’s When Knights Were Bold (1929), in addition to, in Hollywood, Reginald Barker’s early sound comedy thriller Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929), starring Richard Dix.
Another minor leading lady during the silent-to-sound transition period, Barbara Kent was seen in more than 30 features between 1926 and 1935. Her most significant appearances were those in the John Gilbert-Greta Garbo blockbuster Flesh and the Devil (1926) and as Glenn Tryon’s romantic interest in Paul Fejos’ slice-of-life silent classic Lonesome (1928).
Curiously, TCM missed out on another silent film actress – one whose demise was announced twice, the last time in November 2010. That’s Eva von Berne (The Masks of the Devil, The Somnambulist), whose (actual) death was reported in early 2011. (Some sources claimed that von Berne had died in the 1930s.)
Perhaps it’s a mere coincidence that 2011 is also the year a silent movie – that’s Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist – made an unexpected cultural splash. But then again, perhaps it has all been carefully scripted by someone, somewhere.
The forgotten ones: Nazi era star & director of Best Picture Oscar nominee among those bypassed by ‘TCM Remembers’
Whether or not due to some careless scripting, numerous film personalities from around the world who died in 2011 were left out of the Turner Classic Movies tribute. Most of these – e.g., Johannes Heesters, Raoul Ruiz, Dulcie Gray – were non-Hollywood big-screen talent. Still, a number of Hollywoodites were neglected as well.
Whatever the reason for their absence, here are TCM’s most noteworthy forgotten ones.
Dutch-born actor and singer Johannes Heesters was a highly popular leading man in German movies of the Nazi era. Among these were Carl Boese’s enjoyable light musical Hello Janine (1939), in which Heesters romances Cairo-born, Hungarian-raised German cinema superstar Marika Rökk, and Paul Martin’s romantic crime comedy Jenny und der Herr im Frack (“Jenny and the Man in a Tuxedo,” 1941), opposite Gusti Huber.
Despite Heesters’ connection with top members of the Nazi regime – Adolf Hitler, for one, was a fan – he was able to resume his acting career after World War II (e.g., Die Fledermaus, 1946; Viennese Melodies, 1947; The Divorcée, 1953; Adventure in Rio, 1955). Besides, he was to remain active on the concert stage until fairly recently.
Heesters, who always claimed to have been nothing more than an apolitical entertainer, is also notable for the similarities between himself and Klaus Maria Brandauer’s ambitious, self-serving, Nazi-friendly actor in István Szabo’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Mephisto (1981).
Johannes Heesters was 108 years old.
Alberto de Mendoza
In films since the late 1930s, Buenos Aires-born actor Alberto de Mendoza is best remembered for a number of Italian B thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s.
Titles include Nino Zanchin’s Appointment in Beirut / Rebus (1969), Sergio Martino’s The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), and Germán Lorente’s Special Killers (1973).
Of particular interest is the 1971 giallo Blade of the Ripper / The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Sergio Martino’s masterful mix of suspense and kinky sex, starring gorgeous woman-in-distress Edwige Fenech. De Mendoza was memorably cast as Fenech’s husband.
On the big screen, Kuala Lumpur-born Dulcie Gray was mostly seen in 1940s British melodramas such as Arthur Crabtree’s Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), supporting Phyllis Calvert and Stewart Granger, and Crabtree’s They Were Sisters (1945), as one of the titular siblings along with Calvert and Anne Crawford.
Decades later, Gray would be seen in a recurring role in the British television series Howards’ Way (1985–1990).
Frequent West End performers in the 1940s and 1950s, Dulcie Gray and husband Michael Denison (Hungry Hill, The Importance of Being Earnest) made their Broadway debut in a 1997 production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.
Denison died the following year. The couple had been married since 1939.
With more than 70 features – including about a dozen documentaries – to his credit, Chilean-born, Paris-based filmmaker Raoul Ruiz a.k.a. Raúl Ruiz died at age 70 last August in the French capital.
Ruiz’s best-known effort is probably last year’s Mysteries of Lisbon / Mistérios de Lisboa, a sprawling, Portuguese-French period drama that has been featured on several U.S. and U.K. critics groups’ Best of the Year lists, in addition to having won the 2010 Prix Louis Delluc, the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Satellite Award, and three Portuguese Golden Globes.
Mysteries of Lisbon also earned Ruiz the Best Director award at the 2010 San Sebastián Film Festival.
Other prominent Raoul Ruiz titles include:
- The political drama Dialogues of Exiles (1975), with Daniel Gélin and Françoise Arnoul.
- The mystery/psychological drama Genealogies of a Crime (1997), winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution. In the cast: Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Melvil Poupaud, Andrzej Seweryn, and Bernadette Lafont.
- Time Regained (1999), a lush adaptation of the final volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. In the cast: Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, and Vincent Perez.
- Klimt (2006), toplining John Malkovich as painter Gustav Klimt.
Raoul Ruiz was married to writer/editor/director and frequent collaborator Valeria Sarmiento.
“Betty Garrett & Leslie Brooks + Last Surviving Silent Era Actresses & the Forgotten Ones: ‘TCM Remembers’” follow-up post: “More Forgotten Ones: Denise Darcel & Cobina Wright Jr. + Several Movie Hunks.”
Turner Classic Movies website.
Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, and Betty Garrett My Sister Eileen image: Columbia Pictures.
Leslie Brooks image: Publicity shot ca. mid-1940s.
Dawn Addams and Paul Massie The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll image: Hammer Films / Columbia Pictures.
Johannes Heesters image: Publicity shot ca. 1940s.
“Betty Garrett & Leslie Brooks + Last Surviving Silent Era Actresses & the Forgotten Ones: ‘TCM Remembers’” last updated in June 2018.