James Cagney – Tough Guy, Dancer

One, Two, Three (1961) - James Cagney

The word great is thrown around a lot, but with this guy, it’s true. James Cagney was a real tough guy and a song and dance man as well. James Cagney, of course, was born in New York City in 1899. After high school, he attended Columbia University but left school upon his father’s death in the 1918 flu pandemic. James Cagney had a variety of jobs bellhop and night doorman. He learned to tap dance, was a street brawler, and was a good amateur boxer. His mother encouraged his boxing but refused to let him turn pro. James Cagney, who began working behind the scenes in theater, was called one night to replace his sick brother and thus began his acting career. He began working on Broadway and in Vaudeville. In 1924, he and his wife moved to California. But they had no luck and headed back to New York. James Cagney was in a play titled “Maggie the Magnificent” with actress Joan Blondell. Al Jolson brought the right…

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Lionel Atwill – Authority Figure to Accused Sex Fiend

Lionel Atwill

Lionel Atwill was born March 1, 1885, in Croydon, United Kingdom. He studied architecture before his stage debut at the Garrick Theatre, London, in 1904 and soon after made his screen debut. He performed stage work in Australia before arriving in the US. Atwill came to America in 1915 and starred with Lily Langtry in “Mrs. Thompson.” He was in 25 productions on Broadway before beginning major film work in 1932. He had a deep voice and bullying manner which severed him well in his roles as noblemen, mad doctors, military, and policemen. He usually wore a trademark thin mustache. His roles include Captain Blood (1935) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). He was well adept at horror with roles like the crazed sculptor in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), and as Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein (1939). His other roles include The Wrong Road (1937) for RKO and Dr. James Mortimer in 20th Century Fox’s film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), and…

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Director John Ford – Mean as they Come

Director John Ford

Director John Ford can be considered to be as mean as they come. Born: February 1, 1894 in Maine Died: August 31, 1973 in California Selected Biography 1917 A Marked Man 1917 Bucking Broadway 1917 Straight Shooting 1917 The Secret Man 1918 A Woman’s Fool 1918 Hell Bent 1918 The Craving 1918 The Phantom Riders 1918 The Scarlet Drop 1918 Thieves’ Gold 1918 Three Mounted Men 1918 Wild Women 1919 A Fight for Love 1919 A Gun Fightin’ Gentleman 1919 Ace of the Saddle 1919 Bare Fists 1919 Marked Men 1919 Rider of the Law 1919 Riders of Vengeance 1919 Roped 1919 The Outcasts of Poker Flat 1920 Hitchin’ Posts 1920 Just Pals 1920 The Girl in Number 29 1920 The Prince of Avenue A 1921 Action 1921 Desperate Trails 1921 Jackie 1921 Sure Fire 1921 The Big Punch 1921 The Freeze-Out 1921 The Wallop 1922 The Village Blacksmith 1922 Little Miss Smiles 1923 Cameo Kirby 1923 Hoodman Blind 1923 North of Hudson Bay 1923 The Face on the Bar-Room…

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John Carradine – Second Best Dracula

John Carradine

John Carradine is a fantastic American actor that had 321 television and film credits. He was very tall and slim and had a wonderfully deep voice that made him ideal playing horror roles. John Carradine was born on February 5, 1906, in New York City. When Carradine was two years old his father died. When his mother remarried they moved to Philidelphia. Apparently, his new stepfather treated him brutally. Carradine ran away from home when he was 14 but later returned. For a time he attended Philadelphia’s Graphic Arts Institute. Later he moved to New York and lived with his uncle Peter Richmond. At some point, he studied under a sculptor in Richmond, Virgina. For a time he worked as painter and sketch artist. He eventually ended up in New Orleans in 1925. Remember Lugosi showed up there in late 1920. I believe this is where you go to learn to be a vampire and I think I turned into on one Maudlin Monday night myself. During this travel period,…

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Gary Cooper – The High Noon Man

Sergeant York (1941)

Gary Cooper was born in Montana in 1901. Both his parents were English immigrants. The family was well to do and owned a large ranch where Cooper spent a good portion of his youth. Cooper spent a couple of years going to school in England before returning to Montana. Cooper was out of school for some time with a hip injury from an auto accident. In 1920, he finally graduated with the help of a teacher that got him interested in drama. Cooper went to college in Iowa but was more successful with painting than drama. He left after about 18 months. In 1924, he followed his parents to Los Angeles where he eventually got a job as a western stunt rider for a poverty row studio. Cooper didn’t care for the stunt work because it was hard on the body and cruel to the horses. He hired an agent and paid for his own screen test. He began to get extra work like being a Roman guard in Ben-Hur…

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Henry Fonda – One-Take Fonda

Warlock (1959) - Henry Fonda

  Henry Fonda was a soft-spoken man who was born in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1905. Following high school, he attended the University of Minnesota and studied journalism. At the age of 20, Fonda began acting at the Omaha Community Playhouse. After becoming a part of the Cape Cod University Players Fonda moved to New York and began working on Broadway. He worked on Broadway through 1934. The last play he did was “The Farmer Takes a Wife.” When this was made into a film he got a role. For the next fifty years, he made some of the most important movies of their era. Fonda worked across all genera’s. Henry Fonda is remembered for so many movies it is hard to summarize. In 1939, Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) were released. The next year Fonda struck gold with his portrayal of Oakie Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). He received an Oscar nomination for this role. He excelled in westerns starring in…

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Whit Bissell – This Guys is in Everything

Whit Bissell

Whit Bissell was born in New York City in 1909. Whit Bissell came to Hollywood in the 1940s, and by the time he retired he had appeared in over 300 movies and TV series. Sometimes it seems like he is in every movie. Just there moving steadily along and never standing out. However, his performance was always solid. He may be best known for playing the mad scientist who turned Michael Landon into a monster in the 1957 cult classic film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). He was also in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1967). Whit Bissell specialized in playing authority figures such as doctors, military officers, and other authority figures. One of his standout roles was as a lovesick convict in the harsh film noir movie Brute Force (1947).  He was familiar on television in “Bachelor Father” 1957-1960 and “The Time Tunnel” 1966-1967. He was in only in one “Star Trek” episode but it was  “The Trouble with Tribbles” 1967. Whit Bissell served on the Screen Actors…

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Strother Martin – Character Actor with Profound Impact

Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Strother Martin Short Biography Strother Martin while famous for that line and many others, he was a springboard champion, taught swimming in the Navy during WWII, and missed the 1948 Olympic team by one place. He moved to Hollywood and among other things, was a swimming instructor to Charles Chaplin’s children. After meeting Sam Peckinpah he began to get roles like Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Slap Shot (1977), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Strother Douglas Martin, Jr. (March 26, 1919 – August 1, 1980) was a character actor who often worked with John Wayne and Paul Newman. Many of his memorable western films were directed by John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. He is no doubt best known as the prison “captain” in Cool Hand Luke (1967), where he utters the famous line “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” This line is ranked number 11 on the American Film Institute list 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes. As a youth, he was very good…

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Lionel Jeffries – Veteran Character Actor

Lionel Jeffries

Lionel Jeffries was an English character actor. He was known for his bald head and bushy mustache. This allowed him to play much older roles. During his career Lionel Jeffries played a nice line of English eccentrics. Lionel Jeffries was born in London in 1926. During World War II he was an officer in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Following the war, he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. This lead to a two-year stint with a repertory company followed by work in English television. Lionel Jeffries had a successful career in English films mainly in comic character roles but he also had dramatic roles such as in Bhowani Junction (1956) with Ava Gardner. In the 1960s he began to get lead roles in films such as Two-Way Stretch (1960), The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), First Men in the Moon (1964) and Camelot (1967). However Jefferies continued his drama roles in films such as Dunkirk (1958), horror such as The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), and adventure…

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Patric Knowles – From Will Scarlet to the Wolf Man

Patric Knowles

Patric Knowles had a successful acting career with 128 TV and movie credits. He stared in some of the biggest films of his time such at The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Wolf Man (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Auntie Mame (1958), The Devil’s Brigade (1968), and Chisum (1970). In retirement he worked to take care of actors that had been less fortunate than himself. Patric Knowles was born in England on November 11, 1911. He was 14 years old when he ran away from the family bookbinding business to pursue acting. He was brought back home but left again in a few years. He was able to find some regional theater work and then entered British films in 1932 and eventually made 14 British films. Based on this work he was offered a contract with Warner Brothers. His second American movie was the hugely popular The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) with…

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Alan Rickman: Master Villian/Actor

Alan Rickman - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

I am very sad that we lost Alan Rickman in mid-January (2016). He was a great actor and one of the best bad-guys of all times. I wanted to jump out of line and do a small tribute to Alan Rickman. Rickman was born in London in 1946. He attended Chelsea College of Art and Design where he studied graphic design. He undertook graduate studies at the Royal College of Arts before opening and running a successful graphic design company with several friends. Finally, his love of theater lead him to audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. At the age of 26, he received a scholarship to study acting. His professional career lasted almost 40 years, covering theater, television, and film. Rickman came to Broadway in 1987 in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” He burst onto to the film scene as villain Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988). Paired with Bruce Willis, Rickman set the standard for generic European villain for decades to come. Continuing with Rickman’s villain roles was…

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Michael Beck – The Warriors to Megaforce

Michael Beck in Memphis in 1949. Beck went to Millsaps College in Mississippi on a football scholarship. He began acting in plays during his college years. Following college Beck was selected to attend the London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. Beck was a very popular young actor with The Warriors (1979). However his next three movies kind of slammed the door on his acting career. He played Sonny Malone in Xanadu (1980) with Olivia-Newton John and Gene Kelly. Xanadu was universally panned. Beck even state The Warriors (1979) opened a lot of doors in film, for me, which Xanadu (1980) then closed. However at some point in the future I may make a case for how this movie was a tribute to Gene Kelly and movies like Cover Girl (1944) and  Singing in the Rain (1952) and most people missed the point. Kelly’s charterer is named Danny McGuire in Cover Girl (1944) and in Xanadu (1980). He had the same bad story as Cover Girl (1944). Sonny and Kira wear…

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Lynne Thigpen – Amazing Voice, Amazing Actress

Lynne Thigpen in The Warriors (1979)

Lynne Thigpen Lynne Thigpen was born in Illinois in 1948. Thigpen was active in theater through her college years. Following college she taught English but the stage bug got her and she headed to New York. In 1971 she was cast in the theater version of Godspell, a new age gospel story. In 1973 when they made Godspell (1973) into a movie Thigpen was selected for a role. Thigpen continued singing and acting in theater through the 1970s and in 1981, she earned a Tony nomination for her work in Tintypes. It was at this point that she made her movie into tv and film. During her career she had almost 40 tv and film roles. Many of her roles were supporting but her deep and unique voice brought her extra attention. She seemed to standout in minor roles. She played the role of the gang DJ in The Warriors (1979). In this movie they only showed her lips talking on the microphone but there was no doubt who was…

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Edmond O’Brien – American Tough Guy

Edmund O'Brian

Edmond O’Brien was born in the Bronx, New York in 1915. O’Brein stated that he learned magic tricks from his neighbor Harry Houdini. He was in the school theater and major in drama a Columbia University. He started on Broadway debut at 21. He was brought to Hollywood and he was uncredited in his first film – Prison Break (1938). The next year he was in a supporting role as “Gringoire” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) with Charles Laughton. He joined the Army Air Force during World War II and returned to a solid career as a supporting actor. By 1950, he was given the lead role in D.O.A. (1950). O’Brien has roles in other film noir classics such as The Killers (1946) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953) In 1954, he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Barefoot Contessa (1954). Perhaps one of O’Brien’s greatest performance was as the drunken newspaper editor Dutton Peabody in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). O’Brien…

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