Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Beatrice Arthur - 'Maude'

Beatrice Arthur began her acting career as a stage actress, in the 1940s. She appeared in several off-Broadway and Broadway productions. She eventually made her way to tv, in the 1950s, and appeared as a guest on many tv shows.

It was in 1972 when she became a household name, as the star of the sitcom "Maude", in which she played a liberal married-but-independent woman living in a suburb of NYC. The 'Maude' character was introduced on "All in the Family" as the cousin of 'Edith Bunker', whose husband was ultra-conservative 'Archie Bunker'. "Maude" was a very popular entry in the tv sitcom genre, and continued on for several seasons.

In 1985, Ms. Arthur again was a star of another popular sitcom, "The Golden Girls", on which she played a retired schoolteacher, Dorothy.

I wrote to Ms. Arthur in between her high-popularity tv years, around 1981. I did not have a photo to send, so I requested one, and she sent this, within a month.

Several years earlier, during my 1973 vacation in Los Angeles, one event I attended was not on my itinerary. I saw signs advertising a fund raising day for the humane society, Actors and Others for Animals. It was held on the grounds of the Burbank Studios, and several celebrities were in attendance. I brought along my camera, and snapped whatever photos I could "sneak". I say "sneak" because there was a charge of 50 cents to take a photo of a celebrity, and I think $2 for an autograph. In 1973, that was a lot of money and I just didn't have much with me, especially because I didn't know about this event until the last minute.

One of the celebrities attending was Beatrice Arthur, and as she sat at a table, signing her autograph, I took the photo below.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ben Welden

Ben Welden was a very recognizable character actor in many movies from the 1930s, and on tv shows from the 1950s, into the 1960s. He was short and bald, and usually played tough guys and street hoodlums, dramatically as well as comically.

When I wrote him in 1985, he was a resident of the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California. I sent him a typical portrait pose, and he promptly inscribed and returned it.

Here is a color still scene of Mr. Welden with George Reeves, from an episode of tv's "Adventures of Superman".

Monday, April 28, 2008

Judith Allen

Judith Allen was an actress in a few dozen movies of the 1930s and 1940s. She played the female lead in several movies, as well as supporting roles. But it is her roles in B-Westerns for which she is remembered today.

When I called her in 1993, it was through a friend, who had located her by following up on leads he'd been acquiring for several years. Her surname was now Rucker, but she was no longer married (she'd previously been married at least twice, including to boxer Jack Doyle).

Ms. Allen was a dear, sweet lady who appreciated being remembered for her movie career. She was a very spiritual person, and loved everybody and all creatures, particularly birds. She never had a harsh word to say about anybody or anything, past or present.

I sent her a portrait photo, which she signed and returned promptly. It can be seen here. It was not the best, but all that was available to me at the time. A few months later, I found three very nice stills, which I sent to her, and she happily signed and returned them quickly. They can be seen consecutivelely, from here.

Ms. Allen was a good correspondent by letter, too. Here is her first letter to me. I don't remember now why she's referring to herself being "under the weather" when she inscribed the photo, because I don't see anything incorrect. She did enclose a feather, explained in the final paragraph: "I'm enclosing a feather which one of my bird friends left on my patio for me".

She was in fairly good health and lived on her own, but was cared for by a friend, who was also the Reverend of her church. As her health became more frail, she required almost full-time attention. When she died on October 5, 1996, her Reverend friend sent this letter to all who were in her life during her final few years.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

James Gregory - 'Inspector Luger'

James Gregory was a well-known character actor in many movies and tv shows from the 1950s through the 1980s. I've seen him as a guest on many shows, but it was as the brash 'Inspector Luger' on the 1970s sitcom, "Barney Miller", for which I'll always remember him. He played the character as a hardboiled 1940s movie detective we've seen so many times.

Recently I've been watching episodes of the 2nd season of "Barney Miller", released on dvd earlier this year. It was a long time since the release of the 1st season, so I've been eager to view some of these shows again.

I wrote to Mr. Gregory in 1982, and requested a signed photo. He sent me this publicity photo which, you may notice, is 3-hole punched on the left column, as it was one which was also sent to casting directors, to place into a binder.

His handwritten note on the back of the photo:
"Dear Bill: My hometown: New Rochelle. Do they still have big rivalry with Davis, in Mt. Vernon?".

He was referring to the high schools' sports teams' competition. I did write him, and told him there was still the traditional rivalry, but the Davis High School was now for 9th grade, and there was a properly named Mt. Vernon High School on the opposite side of the city.

Here is a YouTube video clip featuring James Gregory on a "Barney Miller" episode.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

In the mid 1960s, I saw one movie (on tv) starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - "Top Hat" (1935). At that time, I didn't care much for musicals, especially with dancing scenes. But I do remember watching the movie with my parents, and hearing my Mother's comments about Astaire and Rogers being such a great movie dancing team.

Mr. Astaire was one of the first major stars I'd written to, asking for an autographed photo. I found his home address in, as I recall, The Celebrity Register, at my local library. I didn't have a photo to send, and at that time, I'd never even thought about sending a photo to an actor for autographing. I simply wrote a brief letter and requested a photo. This was in 1968. A few weeks later, I was delighted to receive a large manila envelope with this photo.

It wasn't until about 1980 when I wrote to Ms. Rogers. I'd heard she sent 5x7 photos to fans requesting a photo, and I didn't have one to send her anyway, so I wrote a letter, complimenting her on the movies I'd seen (since that first Astaire/Rogers movie I saw in the '60s, I'd seen both of them in other movies, together and individually). Within a few weeks, I received this photo from her.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Couple of Centenarian Ladies - Estelle Winwood and Athene Seyler

Well, they were not quite centenarians when I sent them photos, but they were very close to it, and the oldest people I'd written to at that time.

Estelle Winwood was born in England and was a stage and movie actress there until she moved to America, where she continued her career in both movies and on tv. At the time I wrote to her, in 1980, she was 97. She was a resident of the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills for several years. She signed this photo and returned it within a couple of weeks. Ms. Winwood died in 1984 at age 101.

Athene Seyler was born in England too, but she lived there her entire life, appearing on stage and in movies and tv. I don't remember exactly where it was I wrote her, but I believe it was her residence. This was in 1980 when she was 91. It took more than a month to receive this signed photo, but that's the way the international mails can be. Ms. Seyler died in 1990, also age 101.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ernestine Wade - 'Sapphire' on "Amos 'n' Andy"

Ernestine Wade was a veteran radio actress who had been on several radio shows, but she became well-known as the character 'Sapphire Stevens', wife of the 'Kingfish' character, on the "Amos 'n' Andy" show, first on radio in the 1940s, and then on tv in the early 1950s.

I remember watching the tv show when it was in reruns in the late 1950s, and I was just a kid, and couldn't appreciate the humor fully. It was much later, in the early 1970s, when I'd seen some 16mm prints of the tv shows, that I came to enjoy the shows, not just for the humor, but for the fine actors and actresses who played the various characters.

As a fan of some 'feisty female' characters on some tv shows, I wanted to obtain a signed photo of Ernestine Wade. I searched the photo shops, but couldn't find anything appropriate. So I wrote her a letter, in care of her agent, since I couldn't find a home address for her. This was in June of 1981. Along with my letter, I enclosed a large stamped self-addressed envelope to accommodate an 8x10 photo, which I'd hoped to receive.

In July, Ms. Wade replied with a two-page handwritten letter, and two 4x5 signed photos. She apologized for her late response, and explained that she no longer had any 8x10 photos. Her very polite and appreciative letter can be read here and here. One photo is a standard portrait pose and the other is in character as 'Sapphire'.

For more information about the "Amos 'n' Andy" saga, and the controversy surrounding it, I recommend a 1986 tv documentary, "Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy". A recommended book is Holy Mackerel: The Amos 'n' Andy Story by Bart Andrews (Dutton, 1986).

Recordings of the radio show can be found for sale by various dealers on the internet, as well as dvds of the tv shows.

Free downloads of some selected radio shows from various years can be found starting on this page.

And here's a condensed edition of a tv episode.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney - "Sugar Babies"

In the late 1970s, Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney teamed for a variety revue of singing, dancing, and all-around entertainment. The revue was "Sugar Babies".

I liked both Ms. Miller and Mr. Rooney for their individual roles in many movies I'd seen over the years. At the time I was actively collecting autographed photos, both were on the road with "Sugar Babies", so I knew if I sent photos to their home addresses, it would be a long long time before I'd get a reply.

Instead, I waited for the show to arrive on Broadway, in about 1980. It was at the Mark Hellinger Theatre.

I sent two photos each, to Ms. Miller and Mr. Rooney, at the theatre. Within a week, I received Ms. Miller's photos signed, and they can be seen here and here.

Some time had passed, and I thought I'd never get a reply from Mr. Rooney, but about a month later, he returned both photos, signed, seen here and here.

Neither of them personalized the photos to me, but I'm sure they had many to sign, both by mail and very likely in person too (at the stage door), so I'm happy to have their autographs as is.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gino Corrado's Restaurant

Since I mentioned Gino Corrado's restaurant in my previous posting about Gene Sheldon, I looked for the snapshots Gino sent me in 1976, soon after I was back in New York. These should have been posted in my blog about Gino, but my collection is stored in three separate locations at various distances from my residence, and only today was I able to get to the place where the "Letters from Gino Corrado Collection" is stored.

The restaurant was appropriately named "Gino's" and was located at 19727 Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, California. The two photos below are dated March 1963.

Gino's note on the back of the photo below: "My restaurant that I operated for 15 years. Lost it by fraud. One of my boys (help) sitting on a big tree stump".

His note on the back of this next photo: "Inside of the restaurant. Many celebrities used to come in my place. I served Northern Italy cuisine - the very best - finest wines".

The business at the address today is a hair salon, A Hair Raising Experience.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gene Sheldon

Gene Sheldon was a comedy actor, best known for a banjo-strumming routine and pantomime. Today he's remembered as the character 'Bernardo' on the Disney-produced tv series "Zorro" (1957) which starred Guy Williams as the title character.

I met Mr. Sheldon in late 1975 during my search for Gino Corrado. I'd found an old address for the Italian restaurant Gino owned several years earlier, and early one Saturday evening, I took a drive to that location. It was on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, a northwestern suburb of Los Angeles. The restaurant was long gone, and the current business, a hair-styling salon, was closed for the day as were all the other shops. I did find an open business a few blocks east, though, in the neighboring city, Tarzana.

Montforte's was the name, and it, too, was a restaurant, with a large bar area. I entered and there were only two people there: the bartender and another person sitting at the bar, slowly sipping a drink. I told the bartender I was trying to find Gino Corrado, and explained to him that Gino had a restaurant in the area some years earlier. He referred me to the drinking person. It was Gene Sheldon, who apparently lived in the neighborhood and was a frequent early customer.

Mr. Sheldon remembered Gino's restaurant, having dined there a few times. He'd heard that Gino had died some years earlier (this was not true, as I did find Gino in May the following year - for that story, read my blog which links to a published article about my search).

At the time, I didn't ask Mr. Sheldon for his autograph, as the focus of my visit was finding Corrado.

A few years later, living back in New York, I remembered meeting Mr. Sheldon, and searched for an appropriate photo to send him for autographing. I could only find this one, which I photocopied from a book about vaudeville performers. He signed it and enclosed a very nice original glossy photo, also signed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry

You may not be familiar with the name Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, but he was a well-known comedic black actor in many movies of the 1930s and 1940s. His screen name was 'Stepin Fetchit', and he became a very controversial actor because he portrayed black characters as slow-moving, slow-talking, and low intelligence. However he's viewed, he did become a 'black superstar' character actor in the 1930s, and parlayed his income into millionaire status.

Despite the many years he was taken down by civil rights groups over his negative stereotypes, he received accolades in later years for his part in opening doors for black actors, notably the Special Image Award by the NAACP. He was elected into the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame in 1978.

In late 1980, Mr. Perry was a resident of the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California. A few years earlier, he had suffered a stroke and needed health care, and the MPCH was the best place for him. I wrote him, and sent him this photo, which he signed and dated, and returned to me in January 1981. As you can see, the stroke affected his mind somewhat, as he inscribed the photo "By Bill Cappello" and "To Stepin Fetchit". But his handwriting is clear and easy to read.

There have been many articles written about Mr. Perry and his "laziest man in the world" character, over the years. However, the best biography is Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry by Mel Watkins (Pantheon, 2005).

For an article and link to a 7 minute radio documentary presented on NPR in 2006, with sound bytes from movies, click here.

Here's a couple of scene stills: top with Warner Oland, bottom with Will Rogers.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dayton Allen -- "Whyyyyy not?"

Dayton Allen was a comedian and voice actor who started his career in radio and then continued into tv , providing voices for many favorite cartoon characters over the years.

Mr. Allen grew up in my hometown, Mount Vernon, NY, and continued living locally in this county for many years during his career. He did voices for many cartoon characters created by the Terrytoons Studio in nearby New Rochelle - some of those characters were 'Deputy Dawg' and 'Heckle and Jeckle'. He also did voices on the "Howdy Doody Show" for a couple of the marionette characters ('Phineas T. Bluster' and 'Flub-a-Dub') for a while.

His catchphrase of "Whyyyy not?" came about when he joined the cast of Steve Allen's tv show in the 1950s. He'd play a person being interviewed, and when asked a question for which he had no ready answer, he'd reply with a drawn-out "whyyyy not?". It has to be seen and heard to be appreciated.

In 1981, I called Mr. Dayton to ask a few questions about his days at the Terrytoon Studios. He was listed in the local phone directory under his business name, either a real estate or insurance company, I just don't remember exactly. He happened to be in the office at the time I called, and he was very entertaining. He asked where I was born, and I said "Mount Vernon". His reply: "Don't worry, you'll get over it". The conversation continued mostly one-sided, almost like I was listening to a stand-up comic doing his routine. There was laughter in the background, as his employees were enjoying his banter as much as I did.

I told him I'd like an autographed photo, and he wrote down my address, and a few days later, received this photo in the mail. The inscription reads:
"To Bill, my 4th [crossed out] 3rd [written above 4th] best Pal. Isn't it swell that just a photo of a person can tell you if someone is in 'the picture'.
Dayton Allen -- Whyyy Not?"

For a personal reminiscence by his nephew, read here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Deanna Durbin

I liked Deanna Durbin in a couple of movies I'd seen on tv in the 1970s. She was a very pretty young lady and had a beautiful singing voice. She appeared in movies in the 1930s and 1940s, then retired from the screen, mainly because she no longer liked working in the Hollywood studio system.

Soon after, she married in France, to movie producer Charles David, and has lived there ever since.

Ms. Durbin has been reclusive as far as giving interviews, but was usually responsive to fans' requests for autographing photos sent to her. I obtained her address in 1981, and sent her a photo, and enclosed a return envelope, along with a few International Reply Coupons, which she could use to obtain postage stamps. I waited for about two months, and was about to give up on ever getting the photo back (sometimes I tended to be impatient, forgetting that international mails can move very slowly, even by air) when I received this photo, signed by Ms. Durbin as 'Deanna Durbin David'.

In recent years, reports are that Ms. Durbin has been non-responsive to fans' letters.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mike Mazurki

Mike Mazurki was a highly recognizable character actor, specializing in playing gangsters and tough-guys in features from the 1930s, and later on, tv shows, right up to the year he died (1990). He was also very adept at playing comedic heavies.

His address was on a list of celebrity addresses passed around by autograph collectors, and I looked him up in the Los Angeles phone directory I had. This was in 1980. His number was listed, but with a different first initial. I called, and the voice that answered was female. It was Mrs. Mazurki, and she confirmed I had the right number for Mike, but he was not home at the time (that's what she told me - maybe he was home and and she was screening my call). She asked how I got the number, and I told her I looked it up in the phone book, and matched it with the street address I had. She replied "That's very efficient of you". She wasn't at all bothered by my call, but told me that her husband was usually not available to talk, and it would be best to write him. I told her I'd send a photo I'd like him to autograph.

A week later, I received the photo, which he inscribed "To my friend and No. 1 fan". I guess I may have been the only fan who ever dared to call him at home, and while he didn't talk to me, he honored me with the "No. 1 fan" greeting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eddie Quillan - One of the "Old Ones"

Eddie Quillan was a vaudeville entertainer before he entered movies in the 1920s. He had roles in many movies throughout the 1920s into the 1960s, and then made guest appearances on many tv shows into the 1980s.

Mr. Quillan had been in a series of two-reel comedy shorts at Columbia Pictures in the early 1950s, teamed with Wally Vernon. Several of the supporting players had also worked in some of The Three Stooges comedies, and I was trying to locate some of the 'lost' ones.

In 1990, I wrote to Mr. Quillan, asking if he knew the whereabouts of any of those players. He replied with this letter. He also sent this signed photo, with the inscription: "To Bill Cappello - Keep looking for the old ones, Bill -- That's where you'll find me. Best Wishes, Eddie Quillan".

When he died just a few months later, on July 19, 1990, I remembered his words on that photo, and thought to myself: There aren't many "old ones" still around.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cast of TV's "Adventures of Superman"

Well, not the entire cast, because two had died long before I started collecting autographed photos - George Reeves ('Clark Kent/Superman') in 1959 and John Hamilton ('Perry White') in 1958.

But, I did get signed photos from four other cast members: Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson, Noel Neill, and Robert Shayne.

Phyllis Coates was the first 'Lois Lane', during the first season of "Superman". This signed photo was obtained in person for me, by my friend Brad, at a special event in Monterey, California, in 1997.

Noel Neill was the second and most well-known 'Lois Lane'. She joined the series in 1953 and stayed until its end in 1958. While living in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, I called her - she was listed in the telephone directory, and as I recall, she lived in Santa Monica. She was very cordial and we talked for several minutes, but when I asked for an autographed photo, she politely explained that she had an agreement with some show promoters (I think it was some convention people) that she would only sign photos sold at those shows. In 1982, when I was back in New York, I sent her this photo, and she did sign and return it promptly. Perhaps she did so because it was not a "Superman"-related photo.

Jack Larson played the role of 'Jimmy Olsen', the young reporter who was usually partnered with 'Lois Lane', from the first season right through the end. In 1982, I sent him this photo, which he signed and returned within a few weeks.

Robert Shayne was 'Inspector Henderson' from the first season through the end. He was a veteran actor whose credits extended back into the 1930s. In 1982, I called him after finding his number in the Northwestern Los Angeles suburban phone directory. Mr. Shayne was somewhat stand-offish during our brief conversation. He was probably tired of hearing from people who'd ask him questions about the death of George Reeves. I asked if it would be ok to send him a couple of photos to have autographed, and he said that would be ok, as long as I provided the return postage-paid envelope. I also asked if I could ask some questions in my letter, and his reply: "You can ask anything you want, but I don't have to answer". I thought it best to just send the photos, and leave out any questions. Mr. Shayne signed both photos and returned them promptly. One is a vintage portrait and the other is a scene still from "Superman". He signed both as 'Bob Shayne', as if we were old pals. Perhaps he felt some kind of affinity with me when he noticed my residence city of Mount Vernon, right next door to his old hometown of Yonkers.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Virginia Bruce - 'The Invisible Woman'

Universal Pictures is famous for its string of horror movies in the 1930s. Occasionally, there would be a comedic entry in that genre, and 1940's "The Invisible Woman" was one.

The movie was a science fiction comedy, based on the "Invisible Man" series, and starred John Barrymore as the inventor of a device that could render a person invisible. Virginia Bruce was the lovely young lady who was his test subject. This is a well-made comedy, and I consider it a classic.

Ms. Bruce was an actress who'd been in movies since the late 1920s, and even had some Broadway credits. She was quite active in movies in the 1930s and 1940s, and did some limited tv in the 1950s.

Ms. Bruce was a resident of the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California, when I called her in 1980. I asked the phone receptionist for Virginia Bruce, and she said "Do you mean Virginia Ipar?". I had to think for a second, and then remembered that was her last married name. My call was put through to her room, and she answered, sounding rather tired. I just wanted to tell her how much I liked her in "Invisible Woman" and a few other movies. She was appreciative, but was not in good health and did not want to continue the conversation. I asked if it would be ok to send her a photo for autographing, and she said it would be fine. I sent her this photo, which she signed and returned within two weeks. The photo is obviously from her earlier years, but was the best portrait I could obtain at the time.

Several years later, long after her death in 1982, I bought these portraits which are from the "Invisible Woman" era.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gene Roth

The first time I saw Gene Roth was in The Three Stooges comedy shorts. He was very memorable in 1949's "Dunked in the Deep", as a foreign spy named 'Mr. Bortch'. The story: 'Bortch' and the Stooges are stowaways on an ocean freighter, and during the course of the journey, the Stooges discover that 'Bortch' has hidden some stolen microfilms inside of watermelons that they helped him carry on board. The hilarity ensues when they try to get the films, and lead 'Bortch' on a chase during which his famous oft-repeated line is "Give me dat fill-um!".

After noticing him in this and a few other Stooges comedies, I recognized him in several old features that were shown on tv on such shows as "Million Dollar Movie" and "The Late Show".

While living in Los Angeles in 1974-1976, I talked by phone several times to another Stooges supporting player, Emil Sitka (more about him in a later posting). Mr. Sitka told me he heard that Gene Roth was working on Saturday evenings at a liquor store on Hollywood Boulevard. He also told me that Roth's real name was Stutenroth.

I took it upon myself to look in the phone directory for a listing for Mr. Roth, under both names, and found one, as 'E.O. Stutenroth', phone number but no address. I called, and sure enough it was Gene Roth the actor. He didn't have time to talk on the phone, but invited me to visit him at the liquor store the next Saturday night. This was in the summer of 1975.

I don't remember the name of the store, but it was connected to a drugstore, with an inside passage between the two so customers could walk from one to the other without going outside. I went there shortly after 6:00pm and Mr. Roth was behind the counter, totaling and packaging a sale for a customer. When he was done, I introduced myself, and we had a most enjoyable conversation about his days in the movies and tv. We were occasionally interrupted by somebody buying a bottle of something or other, but he'd immediately resume talking when the sale was completed.

He gave me this photo, which was a 'contemporary' shot, not vintage which I would have preferred. I also brought along a book, The Versatiles: A Study of Supporting Character Actors and Actresses in the American Motion Picture, 1930-1955 (by Alfred E. Twomey and Arthur F. McClure), which included an entry and a scene photo. Mr. Roth signed the page, shown below.

He was retired, more or less, from acting, but still liked to show his resume. He gave me a multi-page listing of all his appearances, something like 300 or so. It was the only copy he had, so I offered to make some copies for him at my workplace during the week and return it the following Saturday night. He reluctantly agreed, probably thinking he'd never see me again.

I made one copy for myself, and about 6 for him, and gave them to him, with the original, the next weekend. He was so pleased about it, he pointed to the the nut concession (a large glass counter which contained compartments with various nuts - peanuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, Spanish peanuts, as well as a few others). He asked which did I like, and I was about to say "cashews", because I really do like them but rarely bought them because they're expensive. As I was about to say "cashews", he instead told me, "I'll give you a bag of the Spanish peanuts, they're great and my favorite". They were also the cheapest nuts. So I walked out with about 2 pounds of Spanish peanuts, and a load of stories from his memories of people he worked with.

One year later, in July 1976, Emil Sitka called me with the sad news of Mr. Roth's death. He'd been crossing a street not far from his residence, and was struck and killed by a hit and run driver.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Jay Novello

Jay Novello, another favorite character actor, was recognizable in many movies from the 1930s on. His roles varied, but he usually played ethnic-types - Italian (mostly), Spanish, Greek, etc. He was equally adept at playing comedic parts as well as villainous parts. In addition to feature films, he was very active in tv during the 1950s through the 1970s.

Mr. Novello was listed in the North Hollywood telephone directory in 1980, when I sent him a request for a signed photo. I didn't call him, but wrote to the address in the directory. He kindly sent me this photo.

Here's another photo, scanned from a book (sorry the quality isn't the greatest, but I wanted to show this 'typical' portrait of Mr. Novello).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Glynnis O'Connor

Glynnis O'Connor has been one of my favorite contemporary actresses since the 1970s. I've enjoyed her roles in several movies and some tv shows.

In 1979, I was browsing the movie books section at my local public library, and there was one other person doing the same. Because of our interest in the same subject, we got to talking. He introduced himself as Sean O'Connor, and while his name didn't mean anything to me, during the course of our conversation, he told me his mother and sister were actresses, Lenka Peterson and Glynnis O'Connor. The family lived in nearby New Rochelle.

We struck up a friendship, during which time we went out to lunch a couple of times, and I visited Sean at his home on more than one occasion, but I never had the opportunity to meet either his mother or Glynnis (though I did meet his father, who was an executive with NBC, and one of his brothers).

Sean promised to have Glynnis sign a picture for me, during one of her family visits (she was still quite active working in movies, and was in California most of the time). One evening, he visited me at my job as a projectionist, at the New Rochelle Mall Cinema, and presented me with this personally inscribed photo from Glynnis, as well as this one which she signed only.

Sean eventually moved to Los Angeles and became involved in the motion picture industry, too, as a digital movie FX artist.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Billy Barty

Billy Barty was an actor who began working as a child in the 1920s. His first roles were in silent comedy shorts, in the "Mickey McGuire" series, which starred Mickey Rooney. Billy played Mickey's little brother. He also had an unbilled appearance in 1930's "Soup to Nuts", the first feature appearance of comic Ted Healy, whose act included Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine who would later become The Three Stooges.

Billy Barty was a midget, but preferred to be called a 'little person'. In 1957 he founded The Little People of America, Inc. , which is a non-profit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature.

I talked to Mr. Barty once, when I was given his phone number by, as I recall, Paul 'Mousie' Garner. Barty and Garner had worked together several times over the years, and particularly on the 1950s tv variety show, "The Spike Jones Show".

Mr. Barty was cordial when I called. I asked if he had any remembrances of working in the feature "Soup to Nuts", but as he was a child at the time, he couldn't recollect anything specific.

I asked for an autographed photo, and he kindly and promptly sent this one.

Mr. Barty died in 2000, but there is an "official website" dedicated to his memory. It's maintained by his nephew.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Benny Hill

I'm a big fan of British comedy, and one of my favorite British comics was Benny Hill. When his tv show was syndicated in the U.S., it was on a local NY station every night for several years in the early 1980s.

I didn't know that Benny Hill's shows in England were originally one-hour specials, and they were cut and compiled into half-hours for distribution in the U.S.

I obtained Mr. Hill's home address in London in the summer of 1981, and wrote him, telling him how much I enjoyed his shows. In addition to requesting an autographed photo, I inquired about two of his cast members, whose names I did not know. He replied with this post-card sized photo, and this handwritten note on the back.

Unable to find addresses for the cast members I'd inquired about (Rita Webb and Jackie Wright), I wrote to Mr. Hill again, asking if he would pass along my request for photos to them.
He replied with this note, dated September 13, 1981:
"Dear Mr. Cappello,
I am sorry to have to tell you that Rita Webb died last month.
Jack Wright tells me that he never sends photos. I don't think he has any. But by all means write to him personally if you wish.
Yours sincerely, Benny Hill"
He also sent this signed 8x10 photo, a pose with some of his famous 'Hill's Angels'. The inscription reads: "To Bill, NOW will you practice?!! Yours, Benny Hill"

I did write a letter to Mr. Wright but never had a reply.

Here are a couple of pictures of the other two names mentioned: Rita Webb (as a bride), and Jackie Wright.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Barbara Eden - A Beautiful 'Jeannie'

Barbara Eden is well-remembered as the star of the 1960s tv sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie", in which she played the title character, a genie who lived in a bottle until she was released by an astronaut, played by Larry Hagman.

Up until the tv show, I thought genies were males, because they were always played by men in movies. Sometimes they were menacing types, too, such as Rex Ingram's genie in 1940's "The Thief of Bagdad". The only comical genies I'd seen prior to Ms. Eden were in cartoons.

Ms. Eden has been a favorite actress since I first saw her as 'Jeannie'. I've since enjoyed her appearances in many other tv shows and movies.

In the early 1980s, I sent her a photo to sign. It was, of course, of her in costume as 'Jeannie'. She signed and returned it, and also enclosed this 'recent' photo of herself.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pat Buttram - 'Mr. Haney' on "Green Acres"

Pat Buttram's movie career began in the 1940s. He played various characters in Gene Autry's westerns, and continued on Autry's tv show in the early 1950s. His roles invariably were comedic.

While he appeared as a guest star on many tv shows throughout the 1950s into the 1990s, he will always be remembered as 'Mr. Haney' on the mid-1960s tv sitcom, "Green Acres", which starred Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. The character was a salesman who was always trying to peddle some item or service to 'Mr. and Mrs. Douglas', the characters played by Albert and Gabor.

In 1980 I sent Mr. Buttram this photo, which he signed and returned to me within a week.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Arnold Stang

Arnold Stang is a well-recognized character comedian whose career started in radio in the 1940s, then continued on to tv and movies. His voice is immediately recognizable, too, as he has done many voice-overs for radio and tv commercials. I specifically remember his commercials for Chunky chocolate - "CHunky! What a CHunk of CHocolate!" - the way he said it, just made a kid want to run out and buy a Chunky candy bar.

Mr. Stang also provided voices for many cartoon characters, perhaps most popularly as 'Top Cat', the early 1960s tv cartoon show.

Some time in the early 1960s, Mr. Stang made a personal appearance at my elementary school, Lincoln. I think he resided in a nearby city. His appearance was with The Amazing Randi, a popular magician of the time. The event was one of those annual PTA shows, each year hosting a parent/child event (this one was a Mother/Son night). At the end of the show, Chunky candy bars were handed out to the audience.

In 1980, I wrote to Mr. Stang, and sent him this photo which he signed to me as his "good friend" - probably in appreciation of my telling him my remembrance of his school show some twenty years earlier.

In the late 1980s, my job as a package-delivery driver involved a route in lower Connecticut, and one city I delivered to every day, was New Canaan. Mr. Stang lived in New Canaan, and one day, as I was driving on a main highway, I saw this familiar person walking alongside the road, towards me. It was Arnold Stang, on his way to the train station. I pulled over and stopped, and he walked up to me, probably thinking I was going to ask for directions. When I said his name and that I was a long-time fan, he was taken aback somewhat, but then smiled and thanked me, then continued on his way to catch a train into New York City.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mary Philbin - She Unmasked 'The Phantom'

Mary Philbin was an actress in the silent days of cinema. She worked through the 1920s, and then retired from the screen.

Her most famous role was that of Christine Daae, a lovely young opera singer who is abducted by a disfigured masked composer who is in love with her. The masked figure, Erik, was played by Lon Chaney Sr., and the movie was "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925).

In the late 1970s, I was researching with a friend for a biography of Chaney. The book was never completed by us, but during the few years we compiled notes, we also contacted several of the still-living players who'd worked with Chaney.

In 1979, I wrote to Mary Philbin, and asked her if she'd kindly share any memories of Lon Chaney, and here is her very brief reply:
"Dear Mr. William Cappello:
Thank you for your nice 'fan' letter.
It is a great pleasure for me to tell you how fortunate I was to work with a fine actor and gentleman, as Mr. Chaney. He always treated everybody with respect and courtesy.
Mary Philbin"

Ms. Philbin was reclusive and shied away from interviews, as well as direct contact. I was fortunate to receive this reply. As I was only interested in anything she had to share about Chaney, I never sent her a photo to sign.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer - 'Mr. & Mrs. Thurston Howell III'

Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer were veteran actors, both starting their careers in the 1940s. In 1964, they were teamed on the tv sitcom "Gilligan's Island", as the millionaire couple, 'Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III', and will forever be remembered in those roles.

Mr. Backus' prior recognition was as the voice for the cartoon character, the near-sighted 'Mr. Magoo'. Ms. Schafer had been a recognizable supporting actress in many features and tv shows prior to "Gilligan".

In 1982, I wrote to both, sending each a photo. Both replied rather promptly. The photo from Mr. Backus can be seen here, and the photo from Ms. Schafer can be seen here. On the latter, Ms. Schafer misspelled my last name, and while it's a common error to omit either a "p" or "l", I sometimes wonder if she did it with a deliberate sense of humor, because I misspelled her last name (as "SchaEfer") in the letter I wrote her.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Robert Mitchum and Ann Sothern - My Favorites

When I'm asked who are my favorite actor and actress of all time, I have a ready answer - Robert Mitchum and Ann Sothern.

Robert Mitchum first came to my attention when I saw "Cape Fear" (1962). His 'Max Cady' character was played to perfection - a man bent on revenge against the lawyer who was responsible for having him convicted and sentenced to several years in prison. If you haven't seen this movie, I highly recommend it.

After this, I wanted to see other movies featuring Mitchum. Over the past several years, I've seen and enjoyed, in no particular order, "The Night of the Hunter" (1955), "The Sundowners" (1960), "Out of the Past" (1947), "Holiday Affair" (1947), "Not as a Stranger" (1955), and many others. Even the B-Westerns he made had something to enjoy in his character portrayals.

In 1980, I sent him a portrait photo, to his home in Santa Barbara, California, and he promptly returned it, signed to me.

The best Mitchum biography I've read is Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care" by Lee Server.
I was "introduced" to Ann Sothern's acting rather late, in the 1980s, when I acquired a few videos of her 1940s 'Maisie' features. Since then, I've sought out as many of her movies as are available. I've seen all of the 'Maisie' movies, and recommend all ten of them, as well as anything else in which she appears.

She could play any type of role, whether comedy, drama, or suspense. Some of the features which highlight her talent are "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949), "Cry Havoc" (1943), and "Brother Orchid" (1940). Her final feature was 1987's "The Whales of August", and while the other stars were also veterans (Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Vincent Price), I think Ms. Sothern's performance is the stand-out.

In 1990, I sent a photo to Ms. Sothern, to her home in Ketcham, Idaho, but never had a reply. I'd heard varying reports about her health, so decided not to pursue the matter. I later learned that she was very responsive to fans' requests for autographs, and could only assume that my photo may have been lost in the mail either to her or on its return to me.

A few years ago, I bought this little signed photo of Ms. Sothern, and a friend sent me the signed index card shortly after her death, when I told him of my disappointment in not having anything from her - he had a few cards he got directly from her several years earlier.

There has been one well-written biography of Ann Sothern, researched by someone who got to know her personally during the later years of her life - Cordially Yours, Ann Sothern by Colin Briggs.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jay Richardson - 'The Big Bopper, Jr.'

One of my favorite rock and roll novelty songs is "Chantilly Lace", written and recorded by Jiles Perry (J.P., or 'Jape') Richardson, who was known as 'The Big Bopper'.

J.P. Richardson wrote and recorded many songs during his short life, which ended on February 3, 1959, in the plane crash that also ended the lives of two other rock and rollers, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, as well as their pilot Roger Peterson.

Richardson's wife was pregnant with their second child, who was born a couple of months later, in April 1959. He was named Jay Perry Richardson.

Jay Richardson was never told much about his father, as his mother eventually remarried. As an adult, he became interested in knowing more about his birth father, and he learned much by contacting people in the music business who knew his Dad. I'd read an article about him, I don't remember where, but perhaps it was in Bill Griggs' Rockin' 50s magazine.

In 1989, I called Jay, to tell him of my enjoyment of 'The Big Bopper's songs, and he was appreciative of my interest. The Port Arthur, Texas Historical Society published a scrapbook by Tim Knight, which I bought, and Jay signed the inside page overlaying a portrait of his Dad.

He told me he was trying to locate some people who'd known his Dad, like radio disc jockeys and music promo people, and I offered to help. He sent me a list of names and I was able to help with only a couple. The list is nowhere to be found among my collection, but I still have his note which accompanied it. It's dated 7/29/89.

He enclosed with the above note an original promo card for two "new" songs by 'The Big Bopper'.

Jay, in tribute to the memory of his father, began his own career, performing his dad's songs. He is known as 'The Big Bopper Jr.' He sent me this signed photo, looking very much like his father, seen below.

Jay has recorded a cd of 'The Big Bopper's' songs, and remarkably sounds like his Dad, too, though he brings his own essence to the performances.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ted Healy - He "Started" The Three Stooges

Most fans of old movies probably have never heard of Ted Healy, but to fans of The Three Stooges, he is of high importance - he "started" The Three Stooges. In his vaudeville act, with his wife Betty Braun, were 'stooges' (dictionary definition of "stooge": An entertainer who feeds lines to the main performer and frequently is the butt of the joke).

Moe Howard and his brother Shemp joined Ted Healy's act in the early 1920s, and a few years later Larry Fine joined the group. I won't get any further into their history because it can be found elsewhere. The first movie starring Ted Healy and "his stooges" was "Soup to Nuts", in 1930 (at that time, there was also a fourth stooge, Fred Sanborn). Healy and Howard, Fine and Howard appeared in several other features, as well as some comedy shorts for MGM.

When Fine and the Howards left him in 1934, Healy continued to act in several movies, mostly in comedic roles. His life ended in December of 1937, at age 41, after a night on the town, celebrating the birth of his only child, a son, a few days earlier. The circumstances of his death have long been subject to speculation, despite the "official" news release of his suffering a heart attack. I'll write more about this another time.

Needless to say, an autograph of Healy's is extremely rare, though he did sign many during his short life. However, one was offered to me, in 1990, by the same person who sold me the Olsen and Johnson signatures. The price: $5. It's a signed album page, shown below.