Friday, February 29, 2008

"The Great Gildersleeve" - Both of them!

One of my favorite 1940s old-time radio comedies is "The Great Gildersleeve". The character was introduced on another show, "Fibber McGee and Molly", and became so popular that a spin-off was created. It may have been one of the first spin-off shows in entertainment history.

Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was first played by veteran radio actor Harold (Hal) Peary. Peary had great voice inflection and when you hear him talk, you can just picture the character in whatever emotions were being displayed at the moment.

Several years later, due to a conflict of the show moving to another network and a contractual obligation with the previous network, Peary was replaced by Willard Waterman, another radio veteran, who'd known Peary for many years.

In 1982, I pursued both actors for an autographed photo. It's not easy to find photos of radio performers, so for both requests, I only sent the usual return envelope. Harold Peary sent me a great 8x10 which featured him in four facial expressions. Willard Waterman was "Happy to oblige" my request, and sent two photos, seen here and here.

If you'd like to listen to some of the radio shows, you can do so here.

And here's an entertaining book about the show.

Side note: In the early 1970s, I wrote to Jim Jordan, who played 'Fibber McGee'. His real-life wife Marian (who died in 1961)) played his wife 'Molly'. I requested a photo, and this is what he sent.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling

The first time I saw Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling, was in the early 1950s tv series "Topper", which starred Leo G. Carroll as Cosmo Topper. Topper was a banker, and he and his wife lived in a house they bought from the estate of the Kerbys, who were killed in an avalanche, along with their St. Bernard dog, Neil. The ghosts were seen and heard only by Topper, which made for some funny and embarrassing situations.

When I watched "Topper", it was in the early 1960s and the show was in syndication. I'd watch it in the morning before going to school. It was one of my first introductions to "funny ghosts" as opposed to "scary ghosts".

The characters were introduced in the opening narration: "Anne Jeffreys as Marion Kerby, the ghostess with the mostess; and Robert Sterling as George Kerby, that most sporting spirit." Sterling and Jeffreys were married in real life, too.

In 1980, I sent two photos, one of each, to the Sterlings, and within two weeks, I received them back. Both signed their respective photos with a simple but cordial inscription, seen here and here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dick Wilson - "Mr. Whipple"

Dick Wilson became a recognizable character actor on tv during the 1950s, but his claim to fame was as "Mr. Whipple" in a long-running advertising campaign for Charmin toilet tissue. The character was a supermarket manager, who would notice some customers talking about the softness of Charmin, at the same time squeezing the package. He'd walk up to them and tell them, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin", took the package into his own hands and, subtly, gently squeezed it himself.

He was in the phone directory, as I recall, living in North Hollywood. I was given his address by another autograph collector, and I matched it with the directory listing. I did call, and talked to his wife. She offered to pass along my request for a photo, and I let it go at that. After a month or so, still not receiving a photo, I wrote to Mr. Wilson. He replied with this note, a signed photo (it's printed on textured paper, so the scan isn't too sharp), and a fold-out card advertising Charmin on the cover and Mr. Whipple on the inside.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Beverly Crane - A "Talking Titles" Twin

Beverly Crane, along with twin sister Bettymae Crane, were best known for their introductory talking titles presentation of Hal Roach comedies shorts, including those of Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang.

The Crane Sisters had been "lost" for years, and were on the "whatever happened to?" list of people who worked in Roach movies. In 1994, at the Sons of the Desert Convention in Tarrytown, NY, I met Brad, who had his own Sons "Tent" in Dayton, Ohio, "A-Haunting We Will Go". Brad was very interested in the research I'd been doing, finding "lost players". He mentioned The Crane Sisters to me, and I'd never even given them a thought.

Shortly after the Convention, I went to the NY Public Library on one of my periodic research trips, accompanied by my good friend Peter. I had the usual list of people to look up, and the Cranes were on it. The library had a clippings folder for them, and while there was not much in it, one important news item was there - a marriage announcement (I don't remember the year, but I believe it was the 1940s) of Beverly Crane, to an Earl C. Trees of Ohio. To a "people locater" as myself, news like this can be very pivotal in finding the subject. Peter was doing his own research, but he shared my excitement about the possibility I’d be able to locate Beverly now that I had some useful info.

When I returned home, I made use of a CD-Rom set I had, a national phone directory. I placed the disc containing listings for Ohio into the computer's drive, and entered the name "Trees". To my delight, the name "E.C. Trees" popped up. I called, and a woman's voice answered. Remembering that the news item was many years old, and that things can change a lot in those years, I cautiously told her I was trying to find an actress named Beverly Crane. She replied, "Well that's me, but I was a dancer, not an actress." Bingo! I'd found her! After a brief chat, during which she told me Bettymae had died a few years earlier, I called Brad and passed along the information. He was pleasantly surprised to know that Beverly lived within an hour's drive, and eventually met her and her husband, and had them as guests at some of his Tent meetings. You can read about one of his visits with Beverly at her home here.

I never did meet Beverly, but Brad kindly got four photos signed for me: a close-up and long shot with Bettymae on the "talking titles" set; a photo of the twins in a dance pose; and on stage with comics Olsen and Johnson.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard was a talented actress who could play a variety of characters, but it's a few select roles for which I best remember her.

Ms. Sondergaard played the inferred title character in "The Spider Woman" (1944 - a 'Sherlock Holmes' feature) and "The Spider Woman Strikes Back" (1946). In other movies, she played the cat Tylette in "The Blue Bird", a 1940 Shirley Temple movie, a very well-made fantasy, in my opinion, and the mysterious "Emily" in Abbott and Costello's "The Time of Their Lives" (1946).

Knowing she'd been married to writer/director Herbert J. Biberman, I looked up her name in a Los Angeles phone directory, suspecting that perhaps she was listed. This was in 1980. She wasn't listed under her own name, but rather as "G. S. Biberman" (her husband had died a few years earlier). I called and the phone was answered by her sister (she identified herself as such a few minutes into our conversation). She told me Gale was in New York City, appearing in a Broadway play, but would be returning home to California in a few days. She said Gale would sign photos for me, but I had to provide them as she had none to give away. She further specified that I enclose a stamped addressed envelope (which I always did) and then allow time for Gale to get to them, as she didn't have a secretary to arrange these things for her.

I sent her three choice portrait photos - one a lovely full-length pose, one a character portrait as "Tylette the cat", and another as "The Spider Woman". She signed all three, but only inscribed the first one to me, misspelling my name.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Don Bexley - "Bubba"

Another of my favorite characters from the tv sitcom "Sanford and Son" was "Bubba", played by comic actor Don Bexley, a veteran comic from the black theater.

At the time I contacted him, in 1980, Mr. Bexley was living in Granada Hills, a northwestern suburb of Los Angeles. He was listed in the phone directory, so I called him, and we had a brief pleasant chat. He appreciated my interest in his career and thanked me for my comments about his "Bubba" character. I told him I'd like to have an autographed photo, but couldn't find one to send him. He asked me to send him my address and he'd send one to me.

I did write him, and he soon replied, with a letter telling me a bit about his recent activities, and also that he'd passed on my requests for photos to two other "Sanford" cast members. (I eventually wrote directly to LaWanda Page myself, and also to Whitman Mayo, but Mayo never replied). He enclosed a signed photo which included four character poses on the reverse. (This is not actually a glossy photo, but rather a semi-glossy textured page that was sent by his agent to producers, hence the lesser-quality scan.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ian Wolfe - Requested MY Photo!

Ian Wolfe was a character actor who appeared in movies from the 1930s right through the 1980s. He also appeared in many tv shows from the 1950s on. He effectively played roles ranging from dramatic to comedic during his long career.

In 1980, I sent him a photo requesting he autograph it to me. He promptly returned it, with a brief inscription. But he "turned the tables" on me - he enclosed this little handwritten note, requesting a snapshot photo of myself! Did I comply? Yes, I did. I happened to have a few pictures of myself , taken a few years earlier, and I sent one to him, but I don't remember if I actually signed my name on it (probably did it on the back, but certainly not on the front).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Margaret Hamilton - A Very Thoughtful "Wicked Witch"

Margaret Hamilton will forever be remembered as the Wicked Witch of the West, in the 1939 classic movie "The Wizard of Oz". She was in many other movies in the 1930s through the early 1950s, when she became regularly cast in many tv shows. In the 1970s she played "Cora" in a popular series of commercials for Maxwell House Coffee.

In 1980, I bought a portrait photo of Ms. Hamilton, and a scene still from "Wizard", from one of the shops in NYC which sold movie photos. The portrait was a bit dark and "muddy", probably from being copied down a few times from the original. I sent both to Ms. Hamilton for autographing to me.

Well, she, too, noticed the poor quality of the portrait, and wrote this note at the bottom of my letter: "Bill dear, I'm sorry you spent your money on this very bad picture. I'm sending you a better one - what it should really look like. If you remember where you bought this I would like very much to know because I don't like it being sold as it is a poor copy. Thank you for your letter. MH." She returned the "very bad" photo unsigned and enclosed this one which she did sign. And she signed the scene still too. Not such a "Wicked Witch" after all.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Katherine Hepburn - Rejected Me!

I've loved Katherine Hepburn since first seeing her in the 1937 movie "Stage Door", which was about aspiring actresses living together in a boardinghouse. Since then, I sought out any available movie featuring Ms. Hepburn. Among other favorites are "Alice Adams" (1935), "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), "Holiday" (1938), and Frank Capra's "State of the Union" (1948).

In 1980, I sent Ms. Hepburn a photo, with my usual cover letter requesting it to be signed to me. I also enclosed a note card on which was reproduced an oil painting she'd created ( the note card was part of a series sold by the humane organization Actors and Others for Animals).

Well, I guess while Ms. Hepburn appreciated her fans, she didn't feel obliged to sign a photo, as she rejected my request, as per her letter to me. But she did sign her tiny photo on the back of the note card. She used a felt-tip pen and the signature isn't sharp and clear, but I had to be satisfied with this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Harry Earles

Harry Earles was a midget actor, but I'll refer to him as a "little person" (another "little person" actor, Billy Barty, started this, when he founded the Little People of America in 1957). Mr. Earles was prominently seen in both the silent and sound versions of Lon Chaney's "The Unholy Three" (1925 and 1930), as well as in the cult classic "Freaks" (1932).

In the late 1970s, I was researching, with my friend Dick Baldwin, for a biography on Lon Chaney Sr., and we were contacting people who'd worked with Chaney. There weren't too many still living. One person who remained elusive for a long time was Harry Earles.

I'd been able to find some information about Earles, and his three sisters, also little people - just a few news items referring to them appearing in vaudeville and the circus, as an act called "The Dancing Dolls". It was by contacting Billy Barty that I was able to find Earles, when Barty referred me to another little person, Nita Krebs. Barty told me that Nita, who'd had been in "The Wizard of Oz", was living in Sarasota, Florida, home to many circus performers. He thought she may be of help. As it turned out, she knew the Earles family personally, and told me their real family name was Schneider, and that Harry's real name was Kurt.

Harry was neither friendly nor cooperative when I asked about his remembrances of Lon Chaney. He wanted to know what would be in it for him. Thinking he was indirectly asking to be paid for his memories, I asked him what he wanted, and he just further declined to tell me anything.

I did send him a photo to sign, a scene still of him from "Freaks", which he signed with his real name.

Several years later, Jim McPherson wrote an article about Harry Earles.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"The Aldrich Family" from Radio

I've enjoyed listening to recordings of "old-time" radio shows. Mostly, I like the anthology series, especially those with suspense, horror, science fiction and fantasy themed stories, but sometimes I like the comedy shows, too. I guess they could be called the radio sit-coms.

One of the shows I enjoyed was "The Aldrich Family", which centered around the exploits of mischievous Henry Aldrich and his pals. The show aired during the 1940s and Henry was played by Ezra Stone, who later became a director of many tv shows. The show opened with his mother calling him, "Henryyyyyyyyyyyy! Henry Aldrich!" and his nervous reply, "Coming Mother."

In the later 1960s, as I "lightly" started my autographed photo collection, I included some of the stars of old-time radio. But finding photos of those actors and actresses was not easy, as many never did go on to tv or movies. So when I located an address for somebody, I'd write them and request a photo. Some had them and some didn't.

One person who didn't have any photos was Ezra Stone. He noted such on my letter to him, in addition to providing answers to a few questions about the show's cast. I did find a photo of him in a book about radio, and sent him a photocopy which he signed, and also made a note on my letter about his directing a couple of tv shows for the current season.

Katherine Raht was a pioneer actress in radio, and she played Henry Aldrich's Mother. She was listed in the Manhattan phone directory and I called her, telling her I liked the show, and then I did something stupid. I asked her if she'd do the opening of the show for me (described above). Her reply - "Oh no, that would be silly. Thank you for remembering me." Then she politely hung up!

Once again, not able to find a photo of Ms. Raht, I sent her a letter requesting one, not just of her but of the cast of the show. She replied directing me to go to NBC and ask for cast photos, but she did enclose one of herself. This is the way I received the photo from her, and is an example of why people should not sign glossy photos with a fountain pen - the ink can smudge easily.

You can download and listen to episodes of "The Aldrich Family" here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Virginia Mayo

Virginia Mayo was a star in several 1940s movies. I liked her opposite Bob Hope in "The Princess and the Pirate" and opposite Danny Kaye in several of his movies, including "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "A Song is Born".

When I sent her a photo to sign for me, it was during a time when I was sending about 7 per week to various people, and in the haste to complete the mailings, I'd inadvertently sent Ms. Mayo a photo of Betty Hutton instead of herself! She returned the photo to me, with a handwritten admonishment at the bottom of my letter, and enclosed a current photo of herself.

I'd not yet sent what I thought was the Betty Hutton photo, as I was waiting to get an address for her. I looked inside the envelope and sure enough, the Mayo photo was there! I promptly sent it to Ms. Mayo, with a letter of apology, and she kindly signed the correct photo of herself.

From that point on, I was very very careful when sending photos, to avoid a repeat of what happened with this request.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo

Mitchell and Petrillo were a parody of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They worked in nightclubs for a while, and then made one movie, "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" (also known as "The Boys from Brooklyn"). The movie has gained somewhat of a cult status over the years.

I located Mr. Mitchell in 1980, when I read about a nightclub in North Hollywood where he was booked. I called the club and asked to speak to him, and he got on the phone and was very cordial and talkative, appreciating my interest in his career with and after Sammy Petrillo. After talking for a short time, he gave me his home number and I called him a few days later to continue our conversation. He then gave me Mr. Petrillo's number and I called him, and he, too, was cordial and talkative about his career.

Duke sent me this signed photo shortly after our conversation. But it wasn't until many years later that I was able to obtain a signed photo from Sammy. I met him at a Ray Courts Collectors Show in New Jersey, and I introduced myself; he remembered me, and we conversed like old buddies. He was actually living not far from me, about 10 minutes away in Yonkers, hence his inscription on the photo, but he didn't include my name!

For a well-written and researched article (10 pages) about the careers of Mitchell and Petrillo, click here.

And here's the trailer for "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla".

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Darby Jones

Darby Jones was one of Hollywood's pioneering black actors, who was usually typecast in the usual roles given to black actors in those days. He was alternately cast as a hotel bellboy, servant, slave, and, many times, as a denizen of the "jungle" as depicted in movies with those themes (e.g., "Tarzan"-type movies - including a couple of "Tarzan" movies).

Today though, he is best remembered by fans of 1940s horror movies, as the zombie Carrefour, in Val Lewton's "I Walked With a Zombie". He repeated the zombie role a few years later in the comedy "Zombies on Broadway".

Mr. Jones was listed in the Los Angeles phone directory, and welcomed my call. He was appreciative of being remembered for his acting. We talked briefly about the treatment of blacks in Hollywood, being cast as servants, etc., and he told me he didn't mind, because it was a job and he got paid for it.

Mr. Jones was one who observed everything and everybody around him, and had some stories to tell. Sometimes while waiting to be called for his scene, he'd quietly wander around and visit other sets. He told me one amusing story about star Carole Lombard, who had a reputation for speaking her mind and using whatever words she wanted. Mr. Jones visited a set on which the crew was awaiting Lombard's arrival. When she finally showed up, the director chided her for being late. She told the director, "You can kiss my ass, you son of a bitch", turned around, and lifted her skirt to expose her bare rear!

I was unable to find any photos of Mr. Jones, as any scene stills I could locate just didn't include him. He very kindly provided me with reproductions of these two, from "Zombies on Broadway" and "I Walked With a Zombie".

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lenore Aubert

The first time I saw Lenore Aubert (pronounced "Oh-bear") in a movie, it was in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein". I immediately became attracted to her beauty and her accent, which I thought was sexy in itself. The entire output of Abbott and Costello feature movies were shown constantly on New York tv in the 1960s, and repeated often, so I got to see Ms. Aubert many times. And to my delight, she was also in another of their features, "Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer".

It wasn't until many years later, during the beginning of my autographed photo-collecting days, that I'd tried to get an address for her. I'd asked many other collectors, and some movie biographers, too, but none knew what had become of her. She seemed to have dropped off the planet.

About this time, I started to do my own research, perusing clippings folders at the NY Public Library, as well as browsing through any actors' directories for more information on favorite movie people, including Ms. Aubert. I did find one article which gave some information, but it was from 1947, and the few bits of what I thought would be useful, turned into dead ends.

I did call the two largest actors' unions, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). SAG had no address for her, not even an old one. But AFTRA referred me to their Pension Fund department, and while they had no address information, the person to whom I'd talked did give me Ms. Aubert's Social Security Number! (This was in about 1980, long before such things became extremely private). I held on to the number, but had given up in my quest to locate her.

Some years later, while on my job delivering parcels, I'd often passed a small Social Security Office, and one day decided to stop in and ask if they could/would tell me anything about Ms. Aubert. I gave her number to the front desk clerk, a young girl who wanted to be helpful. She ran the number through their computer system, and bingo! The record showed that Lenore was collecting benefits, and living in New York City. The clerk could not give me the address, but she did tell me that Lenore's name in their records was "Greene".

With that information, upon returning home, I looked in the Manhattan white pages, and found a few listings for "L. Greene". The first two I called were not Lenore, but the third was! However, she was less than friendly, not in an offensive way, but when I asked if I could talk to her about her movie career, she replied "I'm sorry, I cannot do that, I'm sorry." I told her I just wanted to let her know that she was remembered for her movies, thanked her for her time, and hung up.

Shortly after, I was contacted by Jim McPherson, who was the editor of the TV/Movies Magazine weekly, published by the Toronto (Canada) Sun newspaper. He'd heard of my success in locating in some of the "lost players" and asked about some of them. When I told him I'd recently located Lenore Aubert, he nearly melted away. She was on his "want list" for several years. After giving him all the contact information I had for her, he called her, and had better success than I did. He made arrangements to meet her at her apartment and interview her. This was in August 1987.

To thank me for putting him in contact with one of his all-time favorite actresses, Jim had her sign a photo to me. Due to several strokes she'd suffered in recent years, it took her about 10 minutes to inscribe the photo, according to Jim.

When Jim returned to Toronto, he wrote and published a two-part article about the lovely Ms. Aubert. It can be read here. And below is a photo Jim took, on the day of the interview.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bill Murray

Bill Murray has been one of my favorite contemporary comedy actors since I first saw him on the "Saturday Night Live" tv show in the 1970s.

Among my favorite Murray movies are "Caddyshack", "Stripes", "Ghostbusters", "Groundhog Day", "Quick Change", "Broken Flowers", and, well, there are several others, too, so I won't list more.

In 1997, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Murray. It was in New York City, and he was to be the Recipient of the Sons of the Desert Annual Comedy Performer Award on April 19th. I brought along a color portrait-scene photo, which was purchased for me a few days earlier by my good friend Peter, who accompanied me to the banquet. Mr. Murray signed the photo just before dinner was served.

After the dinner, the award was presented to our special guest. While taking a break in the outer hall, Peter took this picture of me with Mr. Murray.

Shown below are two photos of Murray with his award. The fellow on the left in the first photo is Jack Roth, who was the Grand Sheik of the NY SOTD Tent at the time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carolyn Jones

I first became aware of Carolyn Jones when she played the role of Morticia Addams on the 1960s tv show, "The Addams Family". Believe it or not, I thought she was beautiful with the long straight black hair and long tight black dress.

It was some time after that show expired, that I began to see her in various tv shows and tv movies as a guest star. She was even prettier out of her Morticia makeup.

In 1981, I'd read a magazine article which mentioned she was living with her boyfriend, Peter Bailey-Britton, in Beverly Hills, or West Los Angeles - in any case, somewhere in that area. I had paper phone directories for the entire Los Angeles area, and I looked up his name, and found a listing. Out of curiosity, I looked up her name. I'd read somewhere that her full name was Carolyn Sue Jones, and sure enough, there was a phone listing for a C. S. Jones, at the same address as Bailey-Britton. For whatever reason, I didn't call her. Rather, I sent her a photo and asked her to sign it. Ms. Jones promptly returned it to me, with a pleasant simple inscription.

A couple of years later, I was saddened to read of her death from cancer. I didn't know it at the time I'd written her, but she was already being treated for it, and in retrospect, it was probably a good thing I didn't call her because it may have been an intrusion.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gino Corrado - From The Three Musketeers to The Three Stooges

Gino Corrado was one of my favorite character actors, with whom I'd become familiar in The Three Stooges comedy "Micro-Phonies" (1945). From that point on, I'd recognize him in various old movies of the 1930s and 1940s I'd watch on tv.

He usually played the role of a waiter, head waiter, chef, doorman, store sales clerk or some other such position in many movies, including some of Hollywood's biggest.

He entered movies in the 'teens, and at one time used the name Eugene Corey, which he hated because it was not his real name - it was "given" to him by a producer. It was obviously derived from his real name. Actually, Corrado was one of his baptismal names, because his real family name was Liserani.

In one of his only major roles, Gino played one of The Three Musketeers, Aramis, in 1929's "The Iron Mask", which starred Douglas Fairbanks. Many years later, Gino would be subjected to the shenanigans of another trio, The Three Stooges.

I wrote an article about my search for Gino, and subsequently meeting him. It can be read here.

At the time I met him, I brought along an 8x10 photo of him in character in "Micro-Phonies", and he signed it in front of me, writing in a cursive style rarely seen today.

I met him on the day I was moving out of California, May 4, 1976. Here and here you can see photos taken that day. But we kept up a mail correspondence for several years. Most of his letters to me included clipped news items and recipes from local newspapers and magazines, on which he'd jot down a few words commenting about the subject. This continued until he became too ill to write, which was only shortly before his death in 1982.

Dorothy Appleby

Dorothy Appleby was a cute little actress who appeared in movies of the 1930s and into the early 1940s. While she was in some feature movies, she's mostly remembered for her work in many two-reel comedy shorts at Columbia Pictures. She worked with The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Hugh Herbert, Charley Chase and others.

Ms. Appleby was the subject of a search by me. I began around 1985, but it was on and off as I searched for other favorites, too. In 1989, searching through her clippings folder at the NY Public Library, any useful personal information I could find ended in the 1930s. I found the usual news items referring to being from Portland, Maine; winning a "Miss Maine" beauty contest in which she was selected by silent movie star Rudolph Valentino; reviews of various movies in which she appeared; one marriage to a Morgan Galloway in 1931 (the marriage was less than one year); and the usual various photos cut from period magazines.

I had to do a bit of genealogy to set me on the trail of finding out whatever happened to Dorothy. I called the Portland Public Library and asked if they had any information about her, since she was a native of their city. They had very little, almost the same information as I found in the NYPL collection. But they did have one item which turned out to be useful - a death notice for her father, George, who died around 1928. The notice gave one vital piece of information - the cemetery where he was buried. The next phone call was to the cemetery, where a very helpful records clerk pulled the burial plot chart for the Appleby family and began to read the names and death dates. I expected that Dorothy would be among them, but she was not. But her mother had died just a few years earlier, at age 102. The clerk gave me the name of the mortuary that handled the service, and I called.

Luck was with me, because the owner of the mortuary was a cousin of Dorothy, and he told me she was living in New York, but didn't have her address or phone number (or maybe he just didn't want to tell me). Instead, he gave me the number for Dorothy's brother James, who lived in New Hampshire. I called, and he was very helpful and said Dorothy wouldn't mind hearing from me, giving me her number and address. He said she was married to a musician named Paul Drake since the 1940s, and that's when she left the movie business.

Later that evening, I called her, and apparently took her by surprise. She at first thought I was a crank caller, asking about her movie career! When I finally convinced her I was seriously interested in her Hollywood years, she warmed up and became friendlier and talkative.

We talked for probably about 15 minutes, during which she told me: when Rudolph Valentino chose her as "Miss Maine", he asked her name, she told him, and he replied, "Nice apple!"; she was not fond of The Three Stooges, because their comedy was just too rough for her liking; she very much liked Buster Keaton, as he was a real gentleman; her first husband, Morgan Galloway, was the son of a wealthy Kentucky family and he was "a wild boy who never grew up", and she couldn't stay married to him; and, she loved working with Jules White (director of the two-reel comedies) because he was very helpful.

I told her I had two photos I'd like her to autograph for me, and she told me to send them. I sent them along with my usual cover letter. A few days later, at just about midnight, my phone rang and it was Dorothy, asking me what I'd like her to write on the photos! I told her "well, whatever comes to mind", and she said "well, sometimes nothing comes to mind any more" and she laughed. Well, something did come to mind, and she signed them with a nice simple inscription on each: "With Warmest Regards" and "Many thanks for your interest".

In 1990, she was invited to be a guest at a Three Stooges Fan Club Convention in Pennsylvania, but she declined due to health problems. She died shortly after, and I wrote an obit for the Three Stooges Journal.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Edward Bernds

Edward Bernds was a writer and director of many of The Three Stooges comedy shorts in the 1940s. Actually, he had a very prolific career as writer and director of many other movies, too, but it's his connection with the Stooges in which I was interested.

I had the privilege and honor of knowing Mr. Bernds for several years, talking by phone mostly, and I did meet him once, in April 1976, shortly before I moved from California. He was always cordial and accommodating to anyone who wanted to know about his working with the Stooges, among others.

It wasn't until March of 1993 when, during a phone call, I asked him for a signed photo, and he replied very soon with a letter and a great photo of himself with the Stooges. During the call, I told him about my researching and writing about some of the supporting players in the Stooges films, and he was interested in reading some, so I sent him copies of three recently published articles in The Three Stooges Fan Club Journal - Gino Corrado, Duke York, and Richard Fiske.

He liked the articles, and replied once again, this time not with a handwritten letter, but with an audio cassette. You can listen to it here - it's about 5 minutes (you can either left click and listen to the streaming mp3, or right click and "save" it to your hard drive).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rosina Lawrence

Rosina Lawrence was an actress/singer who appeared in several movies in the 1930s. She is best remembered for her role as Mary Roberts in the 1937 Laurel and Hardy comedy "Way Out West". Additionally, she appeared in some of the Little Rascals comedies as a schoolteacher.

Shortly before I left California in May 1976, to return to New York, a friend asked me if I could locate a couple of ladies from the Laurel and Hardy movies. He said the Sons of the Desert, the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, had been trying to find them for years with no luck. He knew of my success in finding some of the players in Three Stooges comedies, so he presented me with this request. One of those ladies was Rosina Lawrence. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything about her at that time.

A few weeks later, I was back in New York. During the first of what would become frequent visits to the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts, where I made extensive use of the clippings folders, I requested to see the one for Rosina Lawrence. While most of the clippings were reviews of movies in which she appeared, there was one (what I consider to be) all-important news item, from about 1939 - an announcement of her marriage to a New York lawyer/judge, Juvenal Marchisio. One other clipping, from a few years later, referred to them living in Brooklyn.

When I returned home, I called telephone directory assistance, requesting the number for a Juvenal Marchisio. There was a listing, but it was for Rosina's son (her husband had died a few years earlier). I called him and explained why I wanted to contact his Mother - because she was fondly remembered for her movie appearances. He gave me her number, and I immediately called her. She was just a sweetheart to talk to, very much appreciative of being remembered, and had only kind words to say about Laurel and Hardy and others she recalled working with.

The NY Sons of the Desert wasted no time inviting her and her family to their annual banquet, which was in a few weeks. It was there that I met her, and enjoyed talking to her. Shortly after, Rosina wrote me and enclosed a vintage portrait which she signed to me.

In 1994, I had the pleasure of providing transportation for Rosina and her then-husband Jack McCabe, to and from the 1994 Sons Convention in Tarrytown, NY. I drove to Brooklyn where I picked up Rosina and her little dog; we then went to a kennel where the dog would stay for a few days; then on to the airport to pick up Jack who'd arrived from their summer residence in Michigan. At the end of the Convention, this trip was done in reverse, dropping off Jack at the airport so he could catch a return flight, picking up the dog, and returning Rosina and dog to the comfort of their home. She gave me this signed scene still to thank me.

Friday, February 8, 2008


It's only late Friday evening, but I already feel like I've worked right through the weekend. I have made a MAJOR UPDATE to my website tonight.

It's beginning to look more robust, as I continue to add pages. Tonight, I've added more than a hundred additional autographed photos, as well as more recipes, and new pages featuring some of my published research articles, photos of me with some of the "stars" I had the pleasure of meeting, and some autographs I purchased from other sources.

So please, take your time browsing the site and the various pages, and please leave comments!

Mark Lester, Child Actor Turned Doctor

Mark Lester is best remembered as the lead in the 1968 movie musical "Oliver!". But I remember him for another role, in the 1970 movie "Sudden Terror", in which he played a lad who witnessed an assassination and then, in a "boy who cried wolf" theme, tries to convince adults that the assassins are stalking him. The movie is very suspenseful and worth seeing.

In the early 1980s, I wrote to Mr. Lester, in England, sending him a photo, along with a self-addressed envelope and return postage (in the form of what were called Postal International Reply Coupons - people in other countries could exchange them for postage), and within a month, he returned the photo, signed to me. The red ink is not clearly visible on the upper left in this dark scene still, but it reads: "To Bill, Best Wishes, Mark Lester".

Mr. Lester left the movie business after a few more years, and attended college and became an osteopath (a specialist in muscular and skeletal systems). In 1993, he established his own clinic.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Eve Arden

While living in North Hollywood, one Saturday afternoon I was grocery shopping in a supermarket (don't remember the name, could have been Lucky's or Alpha Beta, as I alternated between the two), and in the dairy section, I picked up a container of yogurt and looked for a freshness date. I couldn't find it immediately, so I took my time slowly looking over the entire container again. A voice from behind asked, "Well, are you going to buy it, or just stand there looking at it?" I turned and it was Eve Arden.

Ms. Arden was doing her shopping, too, and apparently I was obstructing the dairy section. I recognized her, but didn't say anything other than, "I'm looking for a freshness date." To which she replied, "Oh well, I guess that's something we should do."

It wasn't until many years later, when I was once again living in New York, that I sent her a photo to sign, and she did so, returning it within a week.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

LaWanda Page ("Aunt Esther")

One of my favorite tv sitcoms of the 1970s was "Sanford and Son", which starred Redd Foxx. Foxx was a veteran comedian and actor of the black theater circuit. His tv show became very popular and he was highly paid, and was given some decision-making authority when it came to selecting his costars. He chose to feature, in recurring roles, other veterans of black theater.

One was LaWanda Page, who played the role of "Esther", sister-in-law of Foxx's character Fred Sanford. She quickly became one of my favorite character actresses, and I sent her a request for an autographed photo, as I was unable (believe it or not) to find a suitable portrait photo to send her.

She complied quite generously, by sending four photos! Unfortunately, none was as her "Esther" character (though on the 3rd photo, she did sign it using one of that character's catchphrases, "Watch it Sucker - Aunt Esther") but these photos show that she was an attractive woman, nothing like "Esther".

Here they are: #1, #2, #3, and #4.

David Manners

I wrote to David Manners in 1982, requesting he sign the photo I enclosed. He acted in several movies in the 1930s, but is best remembered for playing the lead in three of Universal's popular horror movies, "Dracula" (1931), "The Mummy" (1932), and "The Black Cat" (1934).

Mr. Manners wrote a brief note at the bottom of my letter, stating he lived here (Mt. Vernon), as a kid. This interested me, because I'd been spending some time in the Local History Room at the Mt. Vernon Public Library, looking through the clipping folders of "local celebrities". There was none for Mr. Manners. With the urging of the then-city historian, Virginia Moskowitz, I wrote to Mr. Manners again, asking him to provide some details of his life in this city "as a kid".

He replied with a detailed "mini-biography" in which he recalled addresses and names of places. A copy was given to Mrs. Moskowitz, who placed it in a folder, bearing the name "Manners, David", who'd become a "newly discovered" local celebrity.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Iris Adrian

Iris Adrian was one of the best character actresses in movies of the 1930s-1960s. Though a versatile actress, she's best remembered for roles as a wisecracking brassy character.

Ms. Adrian was a friend of Muriel Landers, another character actress whom I knew for the last couple of years of her life. Once, from Muriel's house in Van Nuys, California, I talked to Iris on the phone, briefly, and told her my enjoyment of her screen portrayals.

It was several years later, following a phone call to Muriel's sister Janice Davies, during which Janice called Iris and we had an entertaining "conference call", that I sent Iris a photo to sign.

She promptly returned the photo, along with a handwritten letter in which she briefly reminisced about Muriel (who died in 1977) and Jack Benny (who died in 1974). The letter can be read here.

Keeping with her usual wit, she signed the photo "Have a good life in spite of it all". The photo can be viewed here.

William Demarest

William Demarest was another favorite character actor of mine. I first saw him in the role of "Uncle Charley" on the tv series "My Three Sons". From then on, whenever I'd see his name in the opening credits of an old movie, I knew there would be some very entertaining scenes.

I talked to Mr. Demarest by phone, in February 1980. He was listed in the Palm Springs, California telephone directory, under his real first name, Carl (the complete listing was as 'Carl W. Demarest'). I found him to be very cordial and talkative, and appreciative of his fans. He'd already been retired for a couple of years, and I remember he told me about having some of the aches and pains of old age. Another thing he told me, and was proud of it, was he appeared in the first talking movie in 1927, "A Night at Coffee Dan's".

I sent him three photos, and he signed and returned all three promptly. My favorite is this one, on which he wrote: "To Bill Cappello - I'm 88 as of 2/27/80. If anybody tells you that the last half is the best half - kick him in the ass. Best wishes, Wm. Demarest". The other two he signed can be viewed here and here.

Burt Mustin - Personally Signed Photo, Personally Delivered

Burt Mustin was one of my favorite character actors, who made many appearances on tv shows throughout the 1960s and 1970s (actually, he started his movie/tv career in the early 1950s, but it was during the late 1960s when I became familiar with his "characters" on tv shows).

In 1974-1975, I was living in North Hollywood, California. One day, in early 1975, I browsed through the local telephone directory just to see if there were any familiar names listed, and I came upon Burt Mustin's number. He, too, lived in North Hollywood, just a few blocks away from me. But I wasn't sure if the listing actually belonged to the actor, so I called, and Mr. Mustin answered the phone and confirmed he was the actor. We talked for a few minutes, with me telling him I always enjoyed seeing his appearances in movies and tv shows. I asked if I could have an autographed photo, and he asked for my address. He told me he'd get it to me soon. I expected it to arrive in the mail some day.

Two days later, there was a knocking at my apartment door, I opened it and there was an elderly man waiting. He asked, "Are you Bill Cappello?", to which I replied "Yes." He then handed me the photograph he was holding, and said "I was just passing by and thought I'd drop this off myself rather than send it by mail." Then he turned and began to walk away. I looked at the picture and realized that the old man was Burt Mustin! I hadn't immediately recognized him because I wasn't expecting anybody to visit, and the knock at the door took me by surprise.

I said, "Hey, Mr. Mustin! This is a pleasant surprise. I didn't expect you to come over." I asked him if he'd like to come in for some coffee, as I had just brewed a fresh pot of instant. But he said he had things to do, thanked me anyway, and continued on his way.

At the time he signed and delivered the photo, he was 91. The photo, which he inscribed as "Hi, Bill! - Burt Mustin 'Boy Actor?'", can be viewed here.