Saturday, May 22, 2010

Who is Leonard Bremen?

A weekend!  I just took a look at the counter I put on the side of my blog, and I am up to 69 page views.  Of course, many of them are my views, but someone else must be looking at the blog.  Please pass around the URL to anyone you know.  It would be great if this catches on and I inspire a few people to watch some older classic films.  I will be submitting the blog to some blog search sites and maybe that will help.

I got to thinking about Humphrey Bogart.  What is your absolute favorite Bogart film?  And Casablanca doesn't count because that is everyone's favorite!  My vote goes to a 1947 film called Dark Passage with Lauren Bacall.  It had a wonderful cast with Agnes Moorehead, Tom DeAndrea, and Bruce Bennett (but I am not much of a Bruce Bennett fan).

If you haven't seen it, the scene is San Francisco.  Lots of hills to add to the suspense.  Bogart breaks out of prison after being jailed for a murder he didn't commit.  Bacall finds him and gives him shelter.  He eventually gets plastic surgery to start a new life, but there are the name of Agnes Moorehead.

There are twists in the plot and suspense in several scenes,  Suspense when he is almost found crossing the Golden Gate Bridge; when Madge (Moorhead) comes to the door; what will he look like after surgery (before the operation the doc says, "I could make you look like a bulldog!"); or later at the diner being questioned by a cop.  Plus the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart, and the happy ending...this is one great movie.

Let's look some bit actors who really added atmosphere to the film.  Houseley Stevenson plays the doctor, who must have been quite good.  There was no sign of the surgery on Bogart's face when the bandages are removed.  Not a stitch in sight!  Stevenson brought a little sadistic terror to his scenes.  A perfect choice for film noir.

Look for a quick view of Vince Edwards.  Yes, Dr. Ben Casey plays a cop in this film.  According the IMDB, this was his first film.  Former Our Gang member, Bobby Young, had a good part in the film.  He was billed as Clifton Young, but he didn't make it to the finish of the film, meeting his end under the bridge.

My favorite bit actor in the film has but a few short lines as a bus station ticket agent.  His name is Leonard Bremen (1915-1986).  As a character actor, he played in a number of TV shows later.  In his early career, he was also in:
Pride of the Marines with John Garfield
Buck Privates Come Home with Abbott and Costello
Song of the Thin Man - Not my favorite Thin Man, but worth watching
The Babe Ruth Story with William Bendix
The Inspector General with Danny Kaye
Ma and Pa Kettle go to Town
On the Town, Tender Trap, and Man with the Golden Arm, and others with Frank Sinatra
Bells are Ringing with Judy Holliday and Dean Martin
and the list goes on.  Hard to believe one of his last roles was on Diff'rent Strokes!  He almost always played a moving man, cab driver, bartender, waiter or truck driver.  No starring roles, but 131 important roles.

He may be my choice for a Bit Actor fan club.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Anita Garvin

I was just reading The Silent Movie Blog and saw a recently posted production still of Anita Garvin with "Wheezer" Hutchins from Our Gang.  Anita started as a Ziegfeld Girl and appeared in 93 films from 1924 to 1940. 

My favorite role of hers was in the 1927 Laurel and Hardy silent, The Battle of the Century.  (Amazon has it on a DVD collection at The Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy: The Complete Collection, Vol. 9.)  The movie is basically a gigantic pie fight.  Every possible situation for getting hit by a pie was used, and I have been told that the entire day's baking from the pie supplier was used just for this film.  Near the end of the film, Anita has the misfortune to slip on a banana peel, landing her backside right in a pie that was on the sidewalk.  She gets up, and as she walks away from the camera, she lifts her leg and gives it a shake.  It must have been quite a shot to make.  As I remember, her dress flipped up when she went down, so the pie got her bottom under the dress. 

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Anita and her husband, Red Stanley.  Back in the 1980s, Anita was invited to several Sons of the Desert functions, including the 1986 international convention in Valley Forge, PA.  We all spoke with her at length, and she was always ready with stories about the film industry.

She told us that she was doing a silent part with Cecil B. DeMille.  The only C. B. DeMille movie she was in was in 1929 called Dynamite.  Anita told us that she played a waif, but I have never seen this one.  In one scene she was standing in the snow and DeMille told her to cry.  She didn't know how to cry on cue.  DeMille instructed the cameraman to keep rolling, and he walked up to Anita.  He looked her straight in the eye and said, "Cool as a cucumber."  At that moment, Anita KNEW her acting career was over, and she started crying!  She said the tears were rolling and just wouldn't stop!  C.B. got his shot, and everyone was happy in the end.

Anita stopped acting after 1940 and she was eventually tracked down by film buffs only to become popular again.  She passed away in 1994.  I will treasure my memory of meeting her.  I may have some pics at home.  When I get some time, I will dig them out, scan them, and try to post them here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This is my Quest

About a year ago I was glancing through IMDB, as I do quite often, and I clicked on some bit actor's name to see what else he was in.  I wish I could remember who that was!  When I looked at his list of hundreds of movie parts, spanning decades, I thought to myself, this guy had quite a career!

As you know I was involved to a large degree in the Sons of the Desert.  That club is all about Laurel and Hardy and anything that is relevant to them.  There are probably hundreds of fan clubs out there for other actors, living and deceased.  You can even become a Trekker if you like "Star Trek."

There are probably classic film clubs, and silent film clubs that study and enjoy those films.  There may be dance groups who idolize Fred and Ginger, or Gene Kelly; and musicians who love the big Hollywood musicals; and they may have clubs.

As I looked at that list of movies, I thought that it would be fun to start a film club named after that actor.  His was a name that nobody would know, because he always played the cab driver or bartender, the man lighting a cigarette or ordering a drink, the elevator operator or the butler...the nameless part, played by an unknown actor or actress.  At our club meetings, every time that actor would come on the screen, even if it was only for 10 seconds...with no dialog, everyone would cheer!

BUT, he or she was in hundreds of movies.  Movies that appealed to all sorts of people who watch movies.  Maybe a club like that would attract a wide range of members who came to see their favorite kind of movie, but stayed to learn about what else was out there for their entertainment.  An interesting idea for a club, don't you think?

Here's an example, though maybe not the best.  My wife and I watched 1948's Easter Parade not too long ago, so I looked up the full cast.  A cab driver in the movie was played by Jimmy Dodd.  You probably remember that name from only 8 episodes of the Mickey Mouse Club from 1955 to 1957.  I sure do.

Dodd played in 89 parts from 1940 to 1955, when he went to work for Walt Disney.  He made all sorts of movies.  Westerns, mysteries, war movies, comedies, and he played cab drivers more than a few times.  I would love to see Hillbilly Blitzkrieg from 1942, complete with Snuffy Smith and Nazi spies.  He was also a composer, with hit tunes like the Mickey Mouse March.

Alas, Jimmy Dodd isn't the one I will name the club after.  His filmography is a bit short.  But it will be fun to continue my quest!  Write to me if you have a suggestion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laurel and Hardy

I knew I would have a lot to say about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy when I started this blog.  (And so did my family!)  I was involved in the Sons of the Desert from the mid 1970s until about 1990.  I met some great people who were, and are still involved in the club. 

The SoD is not a fan club, rather it is described as a group of film buffs who get together to study all aspects of the films of Laurel and Hardy.  Of course, all of it is done with a half-assed dignity about it, as prescribed by Stan Laurel himself.

Laurel and Hardy worked together in films from 1917 until 1951.  Their earliest films did not include them as a team, just as two players who happened to be in the same film.  They also, each, made many films without the other.  I am not going to give you a complete history here, but there are quite a few good books on the subject.  Try to pick up Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy: An Affectionate Biography by John McCabe.  The most important thing is to watch the films and enjoy them.

Of course, L&H were very funny and creative, but just how far can all that talent go without the bit actors and supporting cast to bring variety to the story line?  Two of the most important supporting cast members in many of the L&H films were Mae Busch and Charlie Hall.  So important, in fact, that the SoD makes a toast to their popularity at the annual banquet.

In the 1933 film, Sons of the Desert (which is the inspiration for the Sons of the Desert organization), Mae Busch has an important role as Ollie's wife.  Charlie Hall appears in the film, but he only has a part as a waiter.  If you simply look at the cast members in these older films, you get important insight into the way the early studios worked.  These players were on a contract with Hal Roach, so they did whatever was needed.  A big part one week, an extra the next, but you still got paid.

A look at the rest of the cast in that movie turns up a few surprises.  I mentioned Billy Gilbert in a previous post, but only his voice (no sneezes!) made it into this film.  T. Marvin Hatley wrote much of the music at the Hal Roach Studios, including the Ku-Ku Song (L&H theme) and a lot of background music commonly used in Our Gang, L&H and other films.  Hatley can be seen as a pianist.

A 23 year old Bob Cummings is an extra in only his second film appearance.  Just a face in the crowd.  Other extras include Lillian DeBorba, who is the mother of Dorothy, who played Little Echo in the Our Gang comedies.  Even Hal Roach himself was in the film.

It is difficult to tie this up to a neat end, but if I keep writing, I will use up all my creativity!  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Silent Movies

Of course, movies got their start without sound.  The actors of those days would typically be folks off the street, rather than stage actors, who looked down on the cinema.  If they needed a butcher, the director went to the butcher shop.

I am fortunate to live within a short distance of the Betzwood Studio of Siegmund Lubin.  Lubin had studios in other states, Florida being famous as Oliver (Babe) Hardy's first employer in films.  Babe made about 65 films for Lubin before Hal Roach snapped him up.  Lubin's office in Philadelphia was on Arch St., but didn't have much room for location shooting.  He did most interior shots on the roof of this building, outside for light, with painted canvas backdrops.  Some of his early Philadelphia movies contain recognizable locations around the city.  He also had a studio at 20th and Lehigh, which was near Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium).

The Betzwood Studio was active from 1912 to 1923, but Lubin went into bankruptcy in 1916.  One of his original storage buildings is newly renovated and is being rented as office space.  It can be seen if you drive West on Route 422, and look down from the Betzwood Bridge over the Schuylkill River.  After Lubin left, the studio was used by others, and the old Toonerville Trolly series of shorts was made there and on location in Phoenixville, PA.  IMDB credits Lubin with 1,948 films from 1897 thru 1916.

On May 1, 2010, my wife and I attended the 38th (I think) annual Betzwood Film Festival at Montgomery County Community College in Bluebell, PA.  They showed Lubin films from 1904 to 1916.  It was interesting to see how movies grew up in just 12 years, with the later films showing much more polish.

My favorite part of the festival was the organist, Don Kinnier.  He has been doing the festival for many years and he knows how to put music with each scene, to bring life to these old movies.  I spoke with Mr. Kinnier after the show and he was very nice.  That is what I like about these old movies and the folks who enjoy them...everyone is knowledgeable AND approachable. 

At the festival we saw a 1916 Lubin film, A Ready Made Maid, with Billie Reeves.  Reeves played a drunk who put on a found maid's uniform and was hired to help at a dinner party, with predictable results.  Before movies, Reeves was with the Fred Karno troupe in England, along with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.  He used to do a bit for the English music halls where he was a drunk heckler in a box near the stage.  When Reeves left Karno to go out on his own, Chaplin took the role of the drunk in that skit.  It was a part that he did so well, he became famous.

According to a source on the Internet (so it must be true!) Reeves was asked to play a drunk later in his career, and imitate Chaplin's performance.  He was indignant about that and said that he was the Original Drunk!

Check out MCCC's silent film site at:
Maybe I'll see you there next year.

Monday, May 17, 2010


We are getting close to Memorial Day, and it struck me that war movies probably utilize more bit part actors and extras than any other genre.  Many war films use real troops, supplied by request to the government, to capture the realism, and supply enough bodies to fill the screen.

The General is a silent film by Buster Keaton about a steam locomotive that was stolen by Union soldiers during the Civil War.  Keaton plays an engineer in the South who tries to recover the missing loco named The General.  This is considered one of the best silent films every made...certainly Keaton's best film.  It is based in fact, although it stretches historical truth quite a bit.  I was awestruck by the stunts Keaton performed, with great risk to life and limb.

Keaton was able to use reserve troops as extras for the battle scenes.  He still didn't have enough men, so he filmed all of the Union side, then they all changed uniforms and he filmed all of the Confederate side.  The big battle scene near the end of the film caused a forest fire, and the troops helped put the fire out before it got too far out of control.

The General is a film that you should not miss.  I recommend that you consider buying it, rather than renting from Netflix, though.  I recently rented it and the soundtrack was horrible!  They chose classical music that had no relation to the scenes.  Part of the fun of silent films is matching the music to what is happening on screen. 

Charles Chaplin was a musician as well as a film maker and actor.  He wrote the music to many of his films.  When you see the film with the correct music, it is a treat.  Try the Gold Rush or even City Lights (technically a sound film) for the best of Chaplin's music.

One last side note, you can see bits of The General in the 1991 Micheal J. Fox film, Doc Hollywood.  The town is having their squash festival, and they are showing a silent film on the wall of a building while Fox is dreaming about Julie Warner.

BTW, the actual locomotive, The General, still exists.  It was built in 1855 and is in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA.  Well, I guess that's two last side notes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Still Tweaking the Blog

As I look back at my previous posts, I see things that I may need to tweak a little.  Google made setting this thing up very easy.  I chose a plain template that looks nice, and I have added some good links at the bottom, all movie related, of course.  They put ads on the page, so it doesn't cost the blogger anything.

If you notice a link on the right to rate blogs, it was a site I found and signed up for.  They look at blogs that are submitted and put some kind of rating on them, then list them for people who are looking to join discussions about many different subjects.  I would like to see this blog become (at least) semi-popular, but from what I read, I may be typing for months before the general public finds me!

I found a good blog at the Turner Classic Movie web site at  They post every few days about topics that roughly follow the TCM broadcast schedule.  They also make it easy to post comments, and what I read in the blog and comments seems intelligent and on topic.  As I continue writing, I will try to keep this blog as classy as I can!

Talking about class, I think Keye Luke was a class act.  His roles were never really huge, but many were bigger than bit parts.  His early success was in the Charlie Chan series, were he played Charlie's "Number One Son," Lee Chan.  That was in the 1940's with Warner Oland and Roland Winters.  (He was actually older than Winters, who played his father.)  Luke's acting career spanned 1934 to 1990 and 198 roles, according to IMDB.

His biggest success was probably a regular role on the TV hit Kung Fu in the '70's, but he had well over 100 other parts between 1940 and Kung Fu.  He was still acting Asian parts in the '80's, and appeared in M*A*S*H on TV, and the movie Gremlins.

Alas, his only award was a Star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood.  Actors like Keye Luke were important to the atmosphere of the movies and TV shows they were in.  I hope I can help them to be recognized and appreciated.  Put a Keye Luke film on your Netflix queue!