Show 4 – The Ultimate Movies Broadcast The Hollywood Trivia Closet – Celebrity First Jobs part 2
First Jobs of Celebrities Part 2
by Lorraine Dmitrovic
Welcome to this month’s edition of The Hollywood Trivia Closet, featuring celebrities and their first jobs, Part 2.
It’s well-known that Loretta Young had an uncredited role as an Arab child in Rudolph Valentino’s silent film, The Sheik, in 1921. By that time she had already appeared in 4 other silents. In her second film at the age of 4, she received billing as Gretchen Young, her birth name, in Sirens of the Sea in 1917. Sadly, many of her films up to and including 1930, have been “lost.” Signed to a contract by the husband of actress Colleen Moore in 1927 for Naughty But Nice, for John McCormack Productions, she wasn’t billed as Loretta Young until 1928, when she played the role of The Girl in The Whip Woman. It was Colleen Moore who gave Young the name Loretta, after one of Moore’s favourite dolls.
Her two sisters at very young ages also went into film. But success in this case was tinged with sadness, as perhaps no Hollywood stardust would have settled on Loretta if her parents hadn’t separated and her mother moved her and her sisters to Hollywood.
Gary Cooper, born as Frank, worked on his family’s cattle ranch and was a full-time cowboy by the time he was 17. Talk about gaining experience for a future job. But before knocking on Hollywood’s door, while in high school Coop was encouraged to get into “dramatics” by a teacher, then took a left turn in 1922 when he enrolled in college to further his art studies. During school vacation months in 1922 and 1923 he worked as a tour guide, also driving the reno-ed open-top school bus, in Yellowstone National Park. By 1924, he left college and eventually returned to Helena to sell editorial cartoons to the local newspaper, The Independent. When his father moved the family to Los Angeles, Gary found short term work as a door-to-door salesman for a photographer, and then tried his hand at selling ad space on theatre curtains. When he went knocking on Hollywood’s door, the answer was to start his acting career as an extra and stunt rider. His first confirmed role was as an uncredited crowd extra in Dick Turpin in 1925. The same year he appeared uncredited as a masked Cossack in the Rudolph Valentino silent, The Eagle. Yup, that’s right, look for the tallest Cossack. Soon working his way up in screen time, and receiving over 1,000 fan letters a week, he began playing roles in many important silent films like Lilac Time with Colleen Moore in 1928 (which actually did have synchronized music and sound effects). He made his breakthrough as a major star when his first talkie, The Virginian, was released in 1929.
As a young child Marlene Dietrich studied the violin and as a teenager became interested in theater and poetry. She once dreamed of being a concert violinist, but an injury to her wrist resigned her to a first job in 1922 as a pit orchestra fiddler, accompanying silent films in a Berlin cinema. She was fired four weeks later.
Her earliest professional Berlin stage appearances were as a chorus girl on tour with Guido Thielscher’s vaudeville-style Girl-Kabarett, and in Rudolf Nelson revues. Later In 1922 she didn’t pass an audition to become a serious actress for theatrical director and impresario Max Reinhardt’s drama academy, but was offered work in his theatres as a chorus girl and playing small roles in dramas. Hard work led to her film debut, a bit part in The Little Napoleon (1923).
She met future husband Rudolf Sieber on set of another film made that year, Tragödie der Liebe, and they married in a Berlin civil ceremony on May 17.1923. Her only child, Maria Elisabeth Sieber, was born in December, 1924.
Dietrich continued to work on stage and film in Berlin and also Vienna and by the late 1920s, she was playing more sizable parts in feature films like Café Elektric (1927).
1930 brought Marlene her breakthrough starring role in The Blue Angel. With its international success, and prompted by director Josef von Sternberg who was already established in Hollywood, she arrived in the United States securely under contract to Paramount Pictures. A star was born. The studio knew that Dietrich was the perfect Germanic answer to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s exotic Swedish star, Greta Garbo.
Olivia de Havilland early learned to appreciate the arts. Ballet lessons at age 4, piano lessons at 5. She could read before the age of 6, and her drama-music-elocution mother also had Olivia reciting Shakespeare to perfect her diction.
While participating in school plays and the drama club, Olivia planned to be an English and speech teacher and attended Notre Dame Convent. In 1933 de Havilland made her amateur theatre debut in Alice in Wonderland. But her stepfather, unfortunately didn’t approve of her acting, and forbade her from continuing. After finding out that she would play the lead of Elizabeth in a school fund-raiser production of Pride and Prejudice, he gave her an ultimatum: to either quit acting or leave home. Olivia chose her future – leaving home forever and moving in with a friend of the family.
After high school, her life was continually full of choices. She was offered a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland to further her education to become an English teacher. The role of Puck also came up for her in the Saratoga Community Theater production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As fate would have it, Austrian director Max Reinhardt was in California to stage a major production of the play to premiere at the Hollywood Bowl. One of Reinhardt’s assistants happened to see Olivia performing with the Saratoga company, and he offered her the position of second understudy of the Hermia role. Olivia accepted.
Then, one week before the Reinhardt premiere, understudy Jean Rouverol and lead actress Gloria Stuart left, with only de Havilland available to play Hermia. Impressed with her performance at the premiere, Reinhardt offered her the part in the upcoming four-week autumn tour. During that run, Reinhardt was confirmed to direct the Warner Bros. film version of his stage play, and he then offered Olivia the Hermia role in the film. She hesitated, still tempted by a teaching career, but signed a five-year contract with Warner Bros. in late 1934 at $200 a week. Soon after, this Errol Flynn fellow would rise to super stardom with her in their numerous films together, the first being Captain Blood in 1935. Olivia’s most famous film role, of course, will likely always be considered to be Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Cary Grant, born with the lovable name Archibald Leach, was taught song and dance at age 4 by his mother, who also felt piano lessons were in order. He and his mother also enjoyed going to the cinema, where he discovered Chaplin and other pre-talkie film greats. But by age 6, feeling neglected by both parents, Archie found friendship and a sense of family with a group of acrobatic dancers known as the Bob Pender Stage Troupe. He learning to stilt-walk, and was also at times thrown around like a prop by the acrobats during acts in their shows.
Some sources state that in March 1911, Archie accompanied the troupe to NY, performed a few weeks there, and soon toured the US. After a few months, the show lost money and appeal, he returned to England in September. For a number of years while back in school, he attended comedy shows on Saturdays in London. In January 1914 his father took him to see Fanny Brice in the revue Hello, Ragtime at the Prince’s Theatre.
In 1918 he apparently rejoined Pender’s Troupe to now dance, perform as a juggler and be an acrobat as well, and he also acted in pantomime. In the biography Cary Grant, Dark Angel, by Geoffrey Wansell, he recalled, “I grew to appreciate the fine art of pantomime. No dialogue was used in our act and each day, on a bare stage, we learned not only dancing, tumbling and stilt-walking, but also how to convey a mood or a meaning without words.” He learned to approach comedy as art ,and that every audience was different. In another bio, Cary Grant: A Class Apart. London: Fourth Estate, by Graham McCann, he stated, “Doing stand-up comedy is extremely difficult. Your timing has to change from show to show and from town to town. We used to do matinees, supper shows and late shows… the response would change from night to night and from town to town. People in Wilkesbarre and folks in Wilmington didn’t laugh at the same things”.
Archie then worked for a time in 1922 in vaudeville, and by the summer had also formed his own group, The Walking Stanleys with several former members of the Pender Troupe. Then, after meeting the owner of Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park racecourse at a party, he was hired to be colourfully outfitted and wear a sandwich board to advertise the racetracktrack. He enjoyed watching the Marx Brothers perform there, billed as the “Greatest Comedy Act in Show Business, Barring None.” Zeppo Marx became an early role model.
In 1923 The Walking Stanleys” toured the US, with another tour of the mid West in 1924 and also in Canada. By 1925 the exhausted group split up, and he returned to New York. Archie resided and performed at the National Vaudeville Artists Club on West 46th Street, juggling, doing acrobatics and comic sketches, and for a while he became a unicycle rider known as Rubber Legs. His comedic talent and timing improved, and he became aware of the importance of teamwork, skills all preparing him for Hollywood stardom. About these other aspects of timing as a performer, he once said, “I learned to time laughs. When to talk into an audience’s laughter. When not to wait for a laugh. In all sorts of theatres, of all sizes, playing to all sorts of people, timing laughs that changed at every single performance.”
A first big acting role on stage, as an Australian, came along in 1927 in Hammerstein’s musical, Golden Dawn. The show lasted 184 performances, with reviews referring to him as a “pleasant new juvenile” and “competent young newcomer”. In 1928, he joined the William Morris Agency, and after one failed play, Hammerstein’s arch-rival Florenz Ziegfeld made an attempt to buy out Archie’s contract – but Hammerstein sold him instead to the Shubert Brothers.
This is when things get really interesting. J. Shubert cast him in a small role as a Spaniard opposite Jeanette MacDonald in the French risqué comedy production of Boom-Boom at the Casino Theatre on Broadway, which premiered January 28, 1929. Co-star MacDonald later admitted that Archie was “absolutely terrible in the role”, but had the ability to charm an audience, which ultimately saved the show. Through the 72 shows in NY, Archie earned an amazing $350 a week. Boom Boom’s newfound success attracted screen tests for him and MacDonald by Paramount Publix Pictures at New York’s Astoria Studios, resulting in MacDonald starting her career in film being cast opposite Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929). Sadly, it was not yet Archie’s time. He was flat out rejected, basically because of his physical appearance – a too thick neck and bow-legs. Kind of unbelievable, isn’t it? Maybe those who had the power with the magic wand to declare someone an actor on that occasion should have blinked twice and opened their eyes to the talent and handsome appeal of star material Archie standing before them.
He continued on the stage until February 1930, when he was fired by the Shuberts after he refused to accept a paycut along with the rest of the company during the Depression.
He fortunately soon found work again as a romantic lead soldier named Cary Lockwood in post-World I France in the musical, Nikki, co-starring opposite actress Fay Wray. The production premiered in September 1931 in New York, but folded after 39 performances due to the Depression.
But all was not as it seemed or all lost. Archie had been praised in the soldier role by Ed Sullivan of The New York Daily News, who noted that the “young lad from England” would have “a big future in the movies”. It was Sullivan’s timely review that clinched a new screen test at Paramount Publix.
Archie met with Jesse Lasky and B. P. Schulberg of Paramount Pictures and a successful screen-test for him was directed by Marion Gering, whom Archie later worked with in Devil and the Deep and Madame Butterfly in 1932. He signed a five year contract, starting at $450 a week. Still known as Archie at that time, Schulberg suggested a name change to “something that sounded more all-American, like Gary Cooper”. While having dinner with Fay Wray one evening, she suggested to Archie to choose “Cary Lockwood”, the name of his character in their play, Nikki. Schulberg approved of “Cary,” giving the newly-named Cary a list of possible surnames compiled by Paramount’s publicity department. He chose “Grant”, which Schulberg liked.
And so, Archibald Leach made his official debut as Cary Grant in This is the Night (1932) as an Olympic javelin thrower opposite Thelma Todd as his wife and Lili Damita as his love interest.
Another early highlight, he played a wealthy playboy opposite Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus. He would make 11 other films from 1932 to 1933. One elevated him toward true star status – 1933’s She Done Him Wrong, for which Mae West had specifically requested Cary play the male lead. West later claimed that she had discovered him. A huge box office success, She Done Him Wrong featured Mae’s signature line, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” Grant was quickly signed to Mae’s next film, also in 1933, I’m No Angel, and he was given a pay raise to $750 a week. The second film, even more successful than She Done Him Wrong, saved the studio from bankruptcy. For handsome, versatile Grant now, the starry sky was the limit.
Listen for more First Celebrity Jobs segments on upcoming Ultimate Movie Broadcast Shows.
Copyright © June 2016: Lorraine Dmitrovic